Ed. Note: In this second part article on COVID-19 vaccines, physicians discuss which groups of patients are more likely to be hesitant about vaccination, how you can reach them, and the likelihood of a national vaccine mandate.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2021
As Rodney J. Taylor, MD, MPH, logged on to speak at the virtual COVID-19 vaccine listening session held in Baltimore, he realized the stakes were high. Organized by a city councilwoman and designed to provide information and motivate African American city residents to get vaccinated, the event could help persuade a population that’s particularly vulnerable to more severe disease. His words could help prevent potentially fatal illness and protect their loved ones and others.
When it came time for him to speak, Dr. Taylor, chair of otorhinolaryngology–head and neck surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, didn’t beat around the bush. He immediately acknowledged that the African American community—due to appalling events rooted in history and health disparities still plaguing the medical field today—is more likely to be skeptical of science and medicine and more likely to say that they’re less likely to get the vaccine than the average U.S. citizen is.
“I’m in Baltimore—we are the home of Henrietta Lacks,” Dr. Taylor said, referring to a Black woman who had cells collected for research without her consent; those cells began the HeLa cell line that became a workhorse of biological research. “People know that in the community. She lives on.”
Acknowledging the hesitation, and the reasons behind it, was essential to connecting with the audience, he said.
“It’s, ‘Hey, let me tell you first and foremost, I’m aware, and healthcare disparities are important to me.’ And as a cancer-treatment physician it’s something that I’ve not only studied and researched but tried to ameliorate in my work,” Dr. Taylor said, adding that he sensed that his comments were received favorably. “And so, I told them, I understand; I’m sensitive and connected to it. But now let me tell you about this vaccine, how this disease impacts our community disproportionately, and why I believe this vaccine is important for us—so much so that I’ve moved forward and was eager and excited to get it to protect my family.”
Factors in Vaccine Acceptance
As vaccines continue to be approved, distributed, and administered, certain groups are more likely than others to harbor reservations about getting their shots in the arm despite a health issue that has a higher profile than any health problem ever seen in their lifetimes, other than those who were alive during the 1918 flu pandemic. In addition to explaining the science and process behind the vaccines—a challenge in its own right as physicians try to encourage patients to get the protection they need—clinicians face these extra layers of hesitation that differ by demographics and are rooted in culture.
Age. According to the latest Pew Research Center poll, released in December 2020, age is a big determinant in the willingness to get the vaccine, with 55% of those aged 18 to 29 saying they’ll definitely or probably get the vaccine, and 53% of those aged 30 to 49 saying they would, compared to 60% of those aged 50 to 64 and 75% of those 65 and older.