The Biden administration knew the secret to an effective Covid vaccination campaign could be reaching the most vulnerable populations. But more than five months in, even a blueprint that’s worked with other cultural and racial groups isn’t doing enough to win over Black Americans. Less than a quarter of Black Americans had received their initial Covid-19 shot of June 7 according to available national data, amid a weekslong stagnation that has defied the government’s ramped-up attempt to quicken vaccinations and reach the nation’s most vulnerable communities.
The slowdown has put Black Americans supporting the pace set within the last month from other racial and cultural groups tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trend worries health officials and experts that say that the immunization drive is running into a particularly complex web of distrust, outreach challenges and stubborn obstacles to access.
“It’s a tough coating that we have to address — it takes relationship building and it’s going to require a little longer,” said Octavio Martinez, executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, who sits on the White House’s Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force. “We’ve got a systemic problem here.”
One of the task force’s first assignments was advocating ways to build trust in the vaccines and effectively roll them out to all those marginalized communities — chief among them Black Americans that are dying from Covid-19 at disproportionate rates. Some early ideas were incorporated into the government vaccination plan crafted within the White House, task force members said. Yet as the panel has changed its focus to other, long-term health equity problems lately, vaccine disparities have persisted.
“We have some areas where the history of prejudice, discrimination and hatred has just caused such an ingrained mistrust of political and social structures that it is difficult to break through this,” said James Hildreth, CEO of Meharry Medical College and a task force member. “We need to create a stronger effort to bring the vaccine into the communities, as opposed to relying upon the communities to come to vaccination centers.”
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The administration had long anticipated that vaccinating minority groups along with other hard-to-reach populations would call for a concerted effort, prompting it to assign a few Covid-19 answer officials to focus on equity issues, besides creating the outside task force. The government and public health specialists continue to believe many members of the groups are not publicly hostile to vaccines, but need peace and prodding to find the shots.
The White House has intensified the equity push in the past month particularly, since it races to hit President Joe Biden’s July 4 deadline for getting 70 percent of U.S. adults to take a minumum of one dose of a Covid vaccine.