Vaccine hesitancy amongst the Black population: misinformation or mistrust?
August 2021 Sarah Nixon
While the majority (92%) of people aged 16 to 29 years have received or would be likely to accept a COVID-19 vaccine if offered, the number of people getting vaccinated is still lowest among ethnic groups, and in particular Black people. Vaccine hesitancy exists for many ethnic groups, however this blog will focus on the Black population.
Black people in the UK have the highest rate of vaccine hesitancy compared to all other ethnic groups, with 21% of Black British adults feeling reluctant to get the jab compared to 4% of White adults. This blog doesn’t intend to speak for every Black person but aims to address some of the key issues that affect the Black population regarding healthcare.
A history of exploitation
Reluctance to taking the vaccine is often solely attributed to the high volume of misinformation circulating on social media. In cases that show misinformation to be a factor in vaccine hesitancy, as opposed to critiquing the intelligence of those that believe it, we must ask ourselves why this misinformation is so easy to believe.
Treating misinformation as the sole cause of vaccine hesitancy fails to address any legitimate concerns about the vaccine and runs the risk of carrying racist undertones. This is because, by suggesting that belief in misinformation is the only reason for vaccine reluctance, it’s implied that Black people are unable to distinguish between what is fact and what is fiction, thus, dismissing their concerns and experiences as ignorance.
To understand some of the root causes of vaccine hesitancy amongst Black people, we must first examine the reasons for the distrust in the healthcare industry within the Black population.
Years of exploitation and unethical treatment is a root cause of distrust in the medical system for many Black people, from the immoral Tuskegee experiment and the painful surgeries and experiments on Black women that have helped form the basis of modern gynaecology, to the testing on Black bodies that have led to many of the scientific discoveries used in healthcare today.
While there are numerous examples of cruelty towards Black people by the healthcare industry. The purpose of this blog isn’t to provide a history lesson, but to understand how we can learn from history and create a better future moving forward, by addressing the issue of mistrust in the medical system and providing improved health outcomes for Black people.
A brighter future
To tackle vaccine reluctance, we must rebuild trust between Black people and the healthcare industry. This requires approaching the concerns raised by many Black people with sensitivity, accountability, and providing actionable change. It’s also vital that we avoid discussing vaccine hesitancy from a place of condescension. Clear information and honest answers backed by data are needed, not to convince people to take the vaccine, but to equip them with the information needed to make an informed decision for themselves.
Drawing a direct correlation between vaccine reluctance and misinformation lumps perfectly logical concerns, such as race-based health inequalities, with actual misinformation that borders on the ridiculous, such as the vaccine containing tracking chips, 5G and even magnets. While blurring vaccine hesitancy with misinformation may make it easier to avoid taking accountability for the healthcare inequalities that exist, acknowledgment must happen before attempting to encourage Black people to be vaccinated or engage with the healthcare system.
At Aurora, we believe that healthcare communications play a key role in bridging the gap between the healthcare industry and the Black population. Engaging in a transparent and meaningful dialogue with Black people will allow us to gain insight into the diverse patient journeys experienced by Black people living in the UK. It will also inform our campaigns with messaging that is culturally relevant and effective by both speaking to the concerns of Black people and addressing shared themes that many within the Black population care about.
If you would like to know more about how we can reach and activate your audiences, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Office for National Statistics. Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest insights: Vaccines. Available from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19latestinsights/vaccines [Accessed 10th August 2021].
 Office for National Statistics. Coronavirus and vaccine hesitancy, Great Britain: 28 April to 23 May 2021. Available from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandvaccinehesitancygreatbritain/28aprilto23may2021 [Accessed 10th August 2021].
 Office for National Statistics. Coronavirus and vaccine hesitancy, Great Britain: 9 August 2021. Available from https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandvaccinehesitancygreatbritain/9august2021 [Accessed 10th August 2021].
 Deidre Owens. Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the origins of American Gynecology. Athens: University of Georgia Press; 2017