Age Shapes Covid-19 Vaccine Reluctance Among Black Americans

Black adults younger than 40 are the group most likely to avoid the inoculations

By Maureen Linke & Luis Melgar | Wall Street Journal | Feb 26, 2021

Black adults under age 40 are the most likely group to say they “definitely won’t” get the Covid-19 vaccine, more than double the response rate of white and Hispanic respondents who are the same age, according to national survey data released every two weeks by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among both unvaccinated Hispanics and whites, 11% under 40 said they definitely won’t get the vaccine, compared with 24% of unvaccinated Black young adults. The survey of 80,000 people, conducted between Jan. 20 and Feb. 1, gauges national responses by different demographic groups in a quick turnaround period to show how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting Americans’ daily lives.

Respondents’ age played the largest factor in a willingness to be inoculated. Those 65 and over were most likely to indicate they would get the vaccine, with 63% of Black and 65% of Hispanic respondents saying they would ‘definitely’ get vaccinated, below the three-quarters of white respondents.

Overall, more Black adults are willing to be inoculated, compared with previous weeks’ results. In the latest poll, 70% of Black adults who haven’t received the vaccine said they definitely or probably would get it, an increase of 7 percentage points since the survey conducted the week of Jan. 6.

Black, Hispanic and Native American populations are dying from Covid-19 at nearly three times the rate of white Americans. These deaths skew younger among minorities, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of death-certificate data collected by federal authorities. Public-health experts say they expected minorities would be particularly affected, including at younger ages, because of risk factors including unequal access to care, as well as possible employment in low-wage jobs that require work outside of the home.

Minority and underserved communities have populations that traditionally distrust medical treatments and the government, and broadly have less access to things such as easy transportation to vaccination centers or the digital technology needed to book appointments. Survey respondents under 40 were the most likely to list a concern about side effects as their reason for being reluctant to get the vaccine. One-third of unvaccinated Black young adults cited a distrust of the Covid-19 vaccine, compared with 23% of whites the same age.

Black and white Americans trust doctors and nurses the most for vaccine information. But their trust levels in various forms of media differ. Black people are more likely to trust social media for information on the vaccine, with 55% of Black respondents saying they do, according to a recent Harris Poll. That compares with 32% of white respondents. But social media can be rife with misinformation.

“There’s a lot of people, particularly in the Black community, who are looking to other people they know or trust in their community,” said the Harris Poll’s managing director, Rob Jekielek. “Many of the people they are connected with have the same apprehensions and share content that reinforces their own fears.”

Followers of antivaccine social-media accounts have increased 20% since 2019, according to a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit that tracks the spread of online misinformation. The organization has tracked nearly 58 million antivaccine accounts and found they are most prevalent on Facebook.

Yet Mr. Jekielek said the antivaccine movement doesn’t worry him as much as other social-media activity. Posts or memes that are less nefarious and that question how a vaccine could be developed so quickly contribute more broadly to the inoculation reluctance found in swaths of the population, he said. One of the larger barriers to convincing some minority groups not to delay is a lack of access to preventive healthcare that builds trust in the medical system, he said.

“I’m less concerned about the antivax, no-chance crowd from a public-health perspective,” Mr. Jekielek said. “I’m much more worried about the next 25%—a large portion who are African-American, that are delaying getting the vaccine, meaning that it will take longer to get to the 80%-of-the-population goal to reach herd immunity.”

Read the full story at The Wall Street Journal.