Vaccination hesitation: Why do blacks avoid shots?


Patient being vaccinated.
Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2010/Gudejko

Roughly between October and May, flu season is prominent in the United States – meaning vaccinations will be often talked about and encouraged. However, for African Americans, it can be an unsettling topic.

African Americans often delay acceptance or refuse vaccine services despite the availability, but has it been questioned why vaccine hesitancy is relevant in the African American community? 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines vaccine hesitancy as the “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific varying across time, place, and vaccines. It includes factors such complacency, convenience and confidence.”

A health care student who wished to be unidentified said that she does not trust vaccinations. 

“To be honest, I don’t think vaccinations are effective. I think there is a higher chance of a person getting an illness after getting the vaccination,” the student said. “How many people do you know that get flu shots and shortly after gets the flu or flu like symptoms?” the student continued. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said African American adults are significantly less likely to be immunized for seasonal influenza than white adults. 

During the 2015-2016 influenza season, the CDC estimated that 37 percent of black adults were vaccinated compared to 45 percent of white adults. 

According to the CDC, “health differences are often due to economic and social conditions that are more common among African Americans than whites. For example, African-American adults are more likely to report they cannot see a doctor because of cost.” 

Certainly, it is not by coincidence that the percentage of black adults who receive vaccinations is lower than the percentage of white adults. 

These low percentages of black adults that are vaccinated can also come from a divide of decisions in the community. For example, Candis Dancy, is a theatre performing arts student who said she receives annual flu shots from the jurisdiction of her mother, but her father does not receive flu vaccinations.

Nurse about to administer vaccination.
​Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2010/Gudejko

“I’ve always thought flu shots are something people get to be cautious. I always thought it was a good thing,” Dancy said. “I get flu shots annually. I just know my mom has always had me get a flu shot every year during my annual check-up at my doctor. My dad, however, doesn’t get flu shots. I’m not sure of the reason why.”

It is possible that the reason is because of the factors mentioned earlier such as complacency, convenience and confidence.

PubMed, which is primarily used for Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online (MEDLINE) database of references and abstracts on life sciences and biomedical topics, had content about racial influences of African American and white adults’ attitudes and behaviors on the flu and vaccine.

It was concluded that African Americans with higher scores on racial consciousness tests were associated with lower trust in the vaccine process, higher perceived vaccine risk, less knowledge of flu vaccines, greater vaccine hesitancy, and less confidence in the flu vaccine. 

As expected, influenza is knocking on the backdoor and vaccinations will continue to be suggested by doctors. However, the question remains – what must occur for a decline in vaccine hesitancy in the African American community?