The majority of Massachusetts residents plan to get a coronavirus vaccine when it’s available, but Black and Latino residents are more hesitant because of longstanding distrust of the government on health care issues, a new poll has found.
Republicans and regular churchgoers are also among those least eager to be first in line for a vaccine, partly due to skepticism over whether the vaccine has been thoroughly tested.
The survey, conducted late last month by MassINC and commissioned by the Museum of Science Boston and the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, highlighted a need for more communication around vaccine safety and the importance of showing people getting vaccinated successfully.
The survey also suggested that the reluctance of several groups will result in an uneven rollout of the vaccine, and further exacerbate racial and socioeconomic inequities laid bare by the pandemic.
“The people who are the most hesitant about taking the vaccine right now are the ones who are probably the most vulnerable, and I think as a society we have to do something about that,” said Tim Ritchie, president of the Museum of Science.
Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at nearly 2½ times the rate of white people nationwide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, and despite representing roughly 13 percent of the population, they have accounted for 22 percent of coronavirus deaths in cases in which race and ethnicity are known. At the same time, surveys have consistently shown that Black Americans are less willing than other racial and ethnic groups to accept a coronavirus vaccine.
While noting the inherent hurdles ahead, the health experts who commissioned the MassINC poll said they found optimism within the responses. While many people of color said they did not want to be among the first to receive the new drug, they were open to taking it with enough reassurance that it is safe and effective.
“Black and brown folks have hesitancy with this vaccine, and we can speak to them and they are willing to take it if we message them in the right way,” said Michael Curry, incoming CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, which have played a key role this year in testing and treatment of the virus.
Curry said it is imperative that the health care community speak with patients in culturally and ethnically proficient ways and be honest about systemic inequity and mistreatment of people of color by the health care system and government. Vaccinating people of color will be one step toward curbing those inequities, he said.
“If we do not get [communities of color] vaccines in a timely way, then we are likely to see those inequities play out even more,” he said.
People’s own doctors are the most trusted authorities around these concerns, the poll found, while religious and political leaders are less trusted, as are friends and family.
The findings for Black and Latino residents surprised the Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church and a member of Governor Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group. She expected a more dire disparity in light of the conversations she’s had in the community.
“We still have challenges but it seems doable in terms of reaching people,” she said of the vaccination process.
The poll results released Tuesday were based on a survey conducted in English and Spanish that reached 1,180 Massachusetts residents, and included oversamples of Black and Latino residents.
Overall, the poll found that 71 percent of respondents are at least somewhat likely to take the vaccine. Just 7 percent of respondents said they plan to never take it. It also found that 38 percent of white respondents will take the vaccine “as soon as possible” compared to 28 percent of Black respondents and 22 percent of Latino respondents.
Those who said they will take the vaccine sooner also include respondents with advanced degrees, those who identify as Democrats, people who earn more than $100,000, and people over 60. Those who prefer to take the vaccine later include those with only a high school diploma and Republicans.
Community organizations that work with people of color are already working on strategies to educate their communities about the vaccine.
Eva Millona, executive director of the MIRA Coalition, an immigrant and refugee rights group, said those communities are reluctant to trust the government after they endured trauma under the Trump administration.
Her organization is working with Boston city officials to hire immigrants who are trained doctors and health care professionals, but not licensed to practice in this country. Those people will serve as outreach workers to their communities and speak with people in their native languages about health care, including the vaccine, during the pandemic.
“There are fears and insecurities, there is this lack of being heard and recognized,” she said. “What the pandemic has discovered is that you cannot recover or deal with these issues if everyone who lives here, regardless of where they were born, is not a part of the solution.”