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Confidence in a COVID vaccine is growing, but not in all communities

According to Pew Research, fewer than 50% of Black adults say they would get a COVID vaccine. Here's what local leaders are doing to change that.

MINNEAPOLIS — As Minnesota state leaders unveiled plans for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, another group of public health and community leaders are focused on addressing another big question: How many people will be willing to take the vaccine once they have the option?

After public confidence in Operation Warp Speed hit a low point during the Presidential campaign in September, new data from Pew Research shows that the recent news about vaccine effectiveness and FDA emergency approval is helping restore confidence. Roughly 60% of American adults say they'll definitely or probably get the COVID-19 vaccine.

"People being hesitant and wanting to be well informed, I think is a good thing," said Ana Nunez, Vice Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "We have to do a better job - government, academics, public health - we have to do a better job in terms of connecting to sort of give them that information."

Nunez says that hesitancy is especially apparent in the Black community. According to the same Pew study, only 42% of black adults say they would definitely or probably get the vaccine.

"There is a lot of fear around the vaccination," said Kelsey Dawson Walton, manager of engagement services for Hennepin County.

Dawson Walton says it's important to understand that that fear of vaccinations often stems from deep seeded mistrust in government actions that have often come at the expense of Black Americans.

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"It's a bigger picture than vaccinations," she said. "From our health to our housing to our education system, what we need to do is continue to build that trust in our communities so that when the vaccinations are ready, everybody is feeling comfortable with them."

So, how do you begin to build that trust?

"We started to create engagement teams that are really culturally specific, to have the pulse on our communities."

Hennepin County is working with 26 community groups connected to the people they serve, and Dawson Walton says they've been working to address a variety of concerns for months.

"Particularly, the African American community has been asking for masks and mental health access," she said. "Right away, we were able to provide masks and now we're up to about 60,000 masks a month to some of our community organizations."

She says the addition of free, community-centered testing sites have also helped instill confidence, but says a vaccine rollout is still a much bigger undertaking.

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"I think there needs to be a lot of education around it, which is why I think it's important to start now," Dawson Walton said. "This week we have our first meeting to bring that group together to start to identify what are those fears, and what are some ways we can mitigate those fears. Also, what are some barriers and some gaps in access that we might not even be thinking of right now?"

Another big barrier? The fact that the two most promising vaccines require two doses.

"Figuring out a way to sort of coordinate it, as far as who got what," Nunez said. "And giving people helpful reminders to help them help themselves in terms of getting this done is going to be really important in terms of preventing confusion and chaos."

And Nunez says the key to making it all work will be both simple and difficult.

"The messenger is important, the message is important, but most important is sort of the relationships," she said. "There's a study that came out that said the way to guarantee that you're health outcome is going to be great is not only if you have a primary care doctor, but if they know your name. If she or he has a relationship with you, your health is going to be better than somebody else. The best way to get things done is doing it together, by getting vaccinated we're showing how we care about each other."

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