Biden administration wants to ramp up vaccination campaign as coronavirus cases rise due to COVID-19 variants.
More Black people in the United States say they are open to receiving coronavirus vaccines, a new survey shows, an encouraging sign that one community leader described as “almost a 180-degree turnaround” from earlier in the pandemic.
According to the late March poll by the Associated Press news agency and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 24 percent of Black people said they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.
That is down from 41 percent in January, and is similar to the proportion of white people (26 percent) and Hispanic Americans (22 percent) who also say they do not plan to get jabs.
The findings come as US President Joe Biden’s administration works to speed up inoculations to try to outpace a recent rise in infections, after he promised that all adults would be eligible for a jab by April 19.
Public health experts had raised concerns about the need to ensure that Black and other communities of colour in the US, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, had equitable access to vaccines.
Local leaders said vaccine hesitancy was fuelled in part by decades of institutional discrimination in healthcare and other public services.
Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told AP that attitudes among Black people have taken “almost a 180-degree turnaround” as outreach campaigns have worked to combat misinformation.
Benjamin said Black physicians, faith leaders and other organisers have helped get targeted messaging to the community “in a way that wasn’t preachy”.
“They didn’t tell people, ‘You need to get vaccinated because it’s your duty.’ They basically said, ‘Listen, you need to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family,'” he said.
Mattie Pringle, a 57-year-old Black woman from South Carolina who previously had doubts about taking the vaccine, said she changed her mind after a member of her church urged her to reconsider. She got her first jab last week.
“I had to pray about it, and I felt better after that,” Pringle told AP.
Medical and public health experts have continued to urge people in the US to get vaccinated in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which has killed more than 561,000 people across the country – the highest death rate in the world.
The US, which has reported over 31 million cases to date, has authorised three vaccines for emergency use: the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs.
So far, more than 178.8 million vaccine doses have been administered countrywide, while 68.2 million people are considered fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Recent surveys have shown that more Americans in general say they intend to get vaccinated than previously did.
The Pew Research Center reported in early March that 19 percent of US adults said they had already received at least one dose, while another 50 percent said they probably or definitely would get vaccinated.
“Taken together, 69 percent of the public intends to get a vaccine – or already has – up significantly from 60 percent who said they planned to get vaccinated in November,” it said.
Other recent surveys show that attitudes towards vaccines are split along political lines. A survey at Monmouth University released last month found that 36 percent of Republicans said they would avoid the vaccine compared with just six percent of Democrats.
That prompted top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, to call on former President Donald Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, experts are urging Americans to take whichever vaccine is available to protect themselves and avoid delays.
“When people come in, I always advise them to get the vaccine that’s available because you never know what vaccine is going to be available the next time,” Reham Awad, a pharmacy intern in the Chicago area, told Al Jazeera this week.