Second in an occasional series from the Star Tribune Editorial Board.
For a variety of reasons, some Minnesotans of color are especially hesitant about getting COVID-19 vaccinations.
Within Asian, Black, Hispanic and Indigenous communities, suspicion of government can be a barrier. Rumors and misinformation about side effects and other potential risks persist, and even for those seeking the shots access can be a problem.
Some Black residents express fear because of discrimination they've experienced in the health care system. They're understandably wary because of historical offenses against Blacks, such as the Tuskegee Study of untreated syphilis in Black men in Alabama from the 1930s until the 1970s.
But vaccine hesitancy must be overcome for the health and safety of individuals as well as the entire population. Since the pandemic began, infection rates and deaths among people of color in the U.S. have been disproportionately high, while vaccination rates have lagged for a number of reasons, including in Minnesota.
Health professionals and community leaders in Minnesota recognize the hesitancy problem and are wisely using culturally specific information and trusted messengers to educate and dispel false information.
The Sahan Journal, a trusted St. Paul-based source of news and information for migrant and immigrant communities, has published a helpful FAQ that provides and wealth of vaccine information while also dispelling rumors that the shots contain pork or other products not considered halal.
Statewide, numerous initiatives are underway to convince people of color to get potentially lifesaving vaccinations. For example, Mayo Clinic has worked closely with over 100 Black churches in the Rochester area and the Twin Cities on COVID-19 education through its Fostering African American Improvement in Total Health (FAITH!) program.
Dr. James Hill, a primary care physician at Mayo, said FAITH! also has allowed health professionals to disseminate accurate COVID information and combat myths in the immigrant Somali, Latino and Cambodian communities and others.
Hill told an editorial writer that vaccine reluctance in the Black community is due in part to "historical trauma" such as Tuskegee and the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were harvested for research without her consent in the 1950s.
Hill said he has participated in Mayo-sponsored community events that have convinced some participants to get the shots.
"What I've often heard are safety concerns because the vaccine was developed so quickly," he said. "They want to know, "How will the vaccine affect people like me?' "
Mayo's efforts, he said, have helped reduce infection rates. In September, people of color in Olmsted County made up 55% of COVID cases; now that percentage is down to 33.
In the Twin Cities, M Health Fairview has produced YouTube videos on vaccination featuring Asian, Black, Hispanic and Muslim religious leaders, among other groups, presented in corresponding languages.
To overcome access obstacles, some of which are rooted in economic disparities, M Health also has hosted mobile vaccination events using the more than 100 community partnerships it has through the Minnesota Immunization Networking Initiative, said Keith Allen, the organization's manager of community collaborations.
There are signs of progress. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that the general willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has gone up since December. But there's still hesitancy, most notably among Blacks and Latinos.
That's why the multiple efforts like those of Mayo, M Health Fairview and community-based programs are so important. They should be supported, expanded and replicated.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The faster we vaccinate, the faster the COVID-19 pandemic ends. But the speed with which the shots were developed has led to understandable questions. The Editorial Board's #OurBestShot series enlists Minnesota health and community leaders to deliver timely, trustworthy answers.
Here's a collection of other articles and videos presented so far, with more planned:
Editorial: The big risk is in not getting vaccinated (March 28).
Video: Dr. Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic discusses the potential side effects of the vaccines, and explains why the risks and impacts are low.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates independently of the newsroom and is not involved in setting newsroom policies or in reporting or editing articles in other sections of the newspaper or StarTribune.com.