This article is part of our series looking at how Black Americans are navigating the healthcare system. According to our exclusive survey, one in three black Americans report experiencing racism when seeking medical care. In a roundtable conversation, our committee of medical experts called for better representation among providers to help address this widespread problem.
- Conversations with family members about vaccinations can be tricky.
- It is important to be patient and understand their reservations and history of medical racism.
- Having a conversation with kindness and patience is key.
When I got my first dose of the COVID vaccine in late March 2021, I was the first in my family to do so. I have spent my whole life getting the annual flu shot and the vaccines I need to go to school. So, at the age of 23, I didn’t hesitate to add another one to that list. After a year of isolation, I long for a return to a sense of normalcy.
Once the appointment was confirmed, I eagerly called my parents and grandmother to ask if they had their appointments scheduled as well. My 77-year-old grandmother was one of the first people to be eligible for the vaccine in early March 2021. She has been taking the pandemic seriously, often wearing a triple mask and avoiding stores and doctors’ offices.
I told her my friend in the medical industry had been vaccinated a month ago but only had cold-like symptoms. I share how, after being fully vaccinated, they now feel more comfortable in public and visiting family members they haven’t seen in a while.
She and my family were hesitant. They want to “wait and see” if the news will report any major side effects before they get their footage. I tried to encourage her, emphasizing that the sooner she did this, the sooner I could go home to visit. It’s been four months since I last stopped to chat with her in the yard 30 feet away.
But despite my attempts, the vaccine remains a bone of contention. I need a plan.
I consulted with friends and roommates who work in medical research, and he was one of the first people in my circle to be vaccinated. She lists her symptoms and experiences with the vaccination process. So I went back to my grandmother with my research.
To assuage her concerns that the vaccine would harm her, she had about 3 more conversations, locked and loaded with this first-hand information. By mid-April, she called and agreed to be vaccinated, promising that once she got her second dose, I would come home and give her the first hug I had given her in a year.
The black community’s distrust of medical practice is rooted in a long history of white medical malpractice.
The black community’s distrust of medical practice is rooted in a long history of white medical malpractice. In the 1800s, once-respected gynecologist J. Marion Sims experimented with enslaved black women without anesthesia to create a practice that could be used on white patients. This type of medical abuse continues in modern times. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a black woman from southern Virginia, sought treatment for cervical cancer. Her cells collected at the time have now been used and replicated by researchers for decades without her consent.
My grandmother was born only seven years before Henrietta Lacks was admitted to the hospital for treatment. It is likely that her life will be filled with traumatic possibilities, that she will also be medically disenfranchised, and that her own health problems will be ignored. When I realized this, I had a better understanding and empathy for her fears about the COVID-19 vaccine. Today, she is fully vaccinated and energized thanks to our phone conversation.
It’s important to remember that our elders, parents, and even our peers may have reservations about getting vaccinated. Having these conversations can be difficult.
As of January 31, 2022, in 42 states, 61% of whites had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, higher than the proportion of blacks (55%).
Communities of color are still struggling to get a vaccine. But with vaccines readily available, we have a responsibility to encourage other Black people to get vaccinated to slow the spread of COVID-19, especially in our own communities where we remain the most vulnerable.
How to Navigate a Conversation
Keep these tips in mind as you dive into these discussions.
Be kind and patient
If you approach a family member and they don’t accept it, then drop the conversation and try again in a day or two without being too pushy. Come back with a compassionate worldview or some kind of emotional compromise.
maybe do not Bribe your grandmother like I did, but remember, these are the people you care about and vice versa. Make sure your tone reflects this.
Ask them what is their main concern
More likely, they can find information about vaccine ingredients, symptoms, aftercare, and more from healthcare providers, health organizations, or vaccine administrators.
You can point them to reliable health resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The NAACP even has its own COVID-19 page, reporting vaccination and pandemic facts, directing you to order free home testing, and helping you find a vaccine clinic near you.
Share how you felt before and after getting vaccinated
Let them know if you prepare the vaccine in a particular way or if you develop any symptoms afterward. It’s comforting to hear what someone you trust is going through.
Staying hydrated, getting a good night’s sleep beforehand, and adding exercise to the arm you’re shooting can all help ease the discomfort. Before my own date, I drank Gatorade, ate a hearty breakfast, and went for a walk to get some fresh air. It’s important to share these details.
Show them rising vaccination statistics
Try showing them some positive stats. It may be encouraging to see evidence that vaccinated people experience milder symptoms after contracting the virus. You can even show them that more people are being vaccinated across the country. The pandemic is not over, but be sure to share hopeful signs that things are improving.
help them arrange an appointment
If their main reservation is not sure where to get the vaccine, help them secure where you get the vaccine (if possible). This level of familiarity reassures them and helps them avoid confusion with the online registration process.
what does this mean to you
If you or someone close to you is having trouble finding where to get your vaccine, CDC has a list of instructions here to point you in the right direction. You can search for appointments here. You can also check out VigorTip’s Health Conversation Coach to help guide you when talking about the COVID vaccine.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.