AUSTIN (KXAN) — Vaccines have been widely available for distribution across the United States since early 2021.
A year later, KXAN is compiling its coverage of the complex reasons and barriers that have stopped people from getting vaccinated against the virus even though health leaders say its the best protection against getting seriously sick or dying.
KXAN is also taking your current vaccine, booster and additional dose questions to health leaders. To get your question answered, email our reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distrust among Black and Brown communities
In Austin-Travis County, and in the state of Texas, Black and Brown communities still lag behind in vaccination rates. They are also the highest communities impacted by COVID-19.
According to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services, less than 10,000 Black/African American’s have been given a COVID-19 booster shot in Travis County. That’s compared to the roughly 151,000 people who listed their race as white in the same area.
Last month, KXAN’s investigates team talked to researchers studying vaccination choices about why some communities are less likely to get vaccinated, they say the decision is more personal and complicated than it might seem on the outside.
Dr. Emily Brunson, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Texas State University, is leading research with CommuniVax, a national coalition made up of educators, health leaders and advocates.
Her team has focused on Black and Hispanic communities which have seen disproportionate impacts from the pandemic. She said they found a common theme surrounding trust in medicine and public health.
“Because if you’re dealing with the situation where a community doesn’t trust that, for example, public health has their best interests at heart, it makes having a conversation about vaccination very difficult,” explained Dr. Brunson.
She said looking at the Black communities in Maryland, Alabama and Virginia it goes back to historical and more recent inequities and biases in health care.
“In Maryland, for example, one of the respondents, you know, came back early on in the pandemic, when they were talking about vaccination,” explained Dr. Brunson. “‘So, you know, you haven’t cared about us now. Like, we’ve come to you with diabetes, you know, concerns with all of these other concerns that our community has, and we’ve been ignored. So, why do you care about us now with COVID?’”
She said in other communities, there have been questions about “if they’re getting vaccine A versus vaccine, B, are they given vaccine A because it’s a lesser vaccine?”
Read more about vaccine hesitancy among Black and Brown communities from KXAN’s investigates team.
CommuniVax teams across the country have also looked at access to the vaccine and if it was easily available for everyone to get the shots.
That’s something Austin Public Health and the Travis County mobile vaccine team have talked about regularly during their COVID-19 briefings. Those groups are making thousands of calls into underserved neighborhoods, working with groups already in those communities, and targeting zip codes with less vaccine uptake.
“If you have a single working mother, who is working 60 hours a week, and the children go to school, and then they might have some after school care and other things that’s it’s a big ask to take them to the doctor’s office to get a vaccination,” Dr. Brunson explained. “It really comes down to, you know, thinking about locally, what, what needs to be done, and in terms of communication, but that’s only part of the story because if you’re dealing with trust issues, there’s not a messaging campaign that will fix that. And so it’s really thinking about how can we build trust.”
Read more about vaccine availability from KXAN’s investigates team.
Parents concerned about children
In a report released in October, researchers from Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern universities found in a 50-state survey that parental concerns around the vaccination had increased “significantly” from June to September 2021. Concerns over long-term effects and whether the vaccine has been tested enough were also considered.
“The risk-reward profile someone has in their head for themselves, of what they’ll do for themselves, is a different paradigm than what they have for a small child,” Andrew Gardner, a Travis County parent, explained to KXAN last year.
Now, more than a month after vaccines were approved for kids older than 5, health leaders are asking parents to protect their kids by getting them vaccinated as early indications suggest omicron more heavily impacts children.
“There’s so much information out there — they’re just trying to understand what is right because they are making decisions for their child. So I still get a lot of questions from the parents,” said Dr. Meena Iyer, Chief Medical Officer at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin and the Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs at UT Austin, Dell Medical School.
Dell Children’s pediatricians and health care experts teamed up recently for a public education campaign encouraging parents to get eligible children vaccinated against COVID saying it’s safe and side effects are rare.
Read more about parents’ concerns getting their kids vaccinated and why health experts say it’s safe in this article.
Last year an Austin mom talked to KXAN about how difficult it was to get her adult children vaccinated against COVID-19. Both her daughter and son, who lived out of state, had latched onto misinformation they found online, she told us.
“They just don’t hear it,” she said. “I just pray that somebody can give me some language or some website or something that I can point them to really drive them home.”
Meanwhile, in a preliminary survey released by Austin Public Health in September, APH showed that of the roughly 340 respondents, all of which had eventually decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19, more than 55% said they were not sure the vaccine is safe. Just under 49% said they were concerned about side effects.
Austin Public Health told us its biggest message is, “choose a vaccine not a ventilator.” They’ve been pushing that message since vaccines became available earlier this year.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a number of suggestions for having constructive conversations with someone in your life who is unwilling to get vaccinated.
They recommend asking open-ended questions about the person’s concerns and truly listening. Is there a way to connect that person with their physician or a trusted love one that can address those concerns specifically?
“I think the primary thing is listen. Lead with listening first, understand their concerns and then have an open and honest conversation about the risk,” Dr. Ogechika Alozie, a member of the Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force, told KXAN.
The CDC also recommends helping that person find their “why” instead of their “why not.” Do they want to travel more easily, visit at-risk family? Help connect them to a reason to get vaccinated, instead of focusing on why they shouldn’t.
For more information on how to talk to loved ones about COVID-19 misinformation, take a look at this article.