Lenoir County health officials hold forum to find out why some hesitant to take COVID-19 vaccine


RALEIGH — Researchers at North Carolina Central University are partnering with the NC Department of Health and Human Services to figure out why there’s hesitancy in marginalized communities getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

As part of its partnership with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to research public attitudes toward COVID-19, North Carolina Central University‘s Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities’ (ACCORD) new research study shows communication about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19, coupled with local access to COVID-19 vaccination, can significantly reduce vaccine hesitancy among historically marginalized people. 

Researchers used in-person and paper surveys to reach those who are often overlooked by research that relies on phones and the internet for interviews. The result provides an on-the-ground perspective across diverse people and communities that is already informing North Carolina’s communications and distribution strategy through ACCORD’s partnership with NCDHHS.

“These results are encouraging and show that awareness campaigns and educational outreach are working and need to continue,” said Deepak Kumar, Ph.D., director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute (BBRI) and founder of the ACCORD program. “Now we understand how to advance equity by getting people the information they need to make informed decisions and, most importantly, delivering on the equitable distribution of vaccines.”

On Thursday, health experts in Lenoir County answered questions from people in the community about the shots. The goal was to spread accurate information and reduce the fears.

“There’s a growing number of us in this community that are saying yes to the vaccination,” said Kinston Mayor Pro-Tem Felicia Solomon. “There’s, unfortunately, a sour taste and a hurt that has been left in some of the lives and memories of the black community.”

Solomon put together a panel of Lenoir County health officials to ease some of the community’s concerns.

“It’s very important that local people, local physicians get out there and help because most of these people are our patients,” said Dr. Pradeep Arumugham with UNC Lenoir Health Care, one of several people on Thursday’s panel. “So we need to get out there and tell them, explain away their concerns and not ridicule them for their concerns.”

Arumugham said she understands the hesitation.

“The African American community in general has lower access to care. When they come to the hospital, their treatment and their sickness is much worse than the rest of the community,” Arumugham said.

“There’s only two ways out of this for any person in this world right now. One, you get the vaccine, or you get COVID…which would you like to have?”

Since August 2020, the ACCORD team has provided more than 50 testing events in underserved communities. The team has tested 3,500 individuals and collected over 1,500 surveys in two phases, before and after vaccines were approved by the FDA. The majority of respondents were from historically marginalized communities, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians.

Overall, 62% are now willing to take the vaccine, which is much higher compared to August-October of last year when only 26.7% indicated a willingness to take the vaccine when it becomes available.

However, confidence is still lower in certain historically marginalized groups with only 50% of American Indian respondents willing to take the vaccine, versus 58% of Latinos and 63% of African Americans. The hesitancy was lowest among Whites, with 78% agreeing to take the vaccine.

The study also found differences by county. For example, Wake County respondents were more willing to take the vaccine, with 79% saying they would definitely or probably get vaccinated, versus only 52% of those in Durham County. Only 49% of Robeson County respondents indicated their willingness to take the vaccine.

Hesitancy can be overcome by providing honest information about safety, effectiveness, and side effects, and by making sure people can go to a nearby location to get vaccinated.

“Once again, our partnership with ACCORD provides us with the data we need to meet our goals on equitable vaccination,” said Ben Money, NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Health Services. “This has already informed our outreach to historically marginalized communities and intensified our commitment to supporting more community partnerships for local vaccination sites, providing free transportation and focusing additional resources where there is the most hesitancy.”

ACCORD is supported by the NC Policy Collaboratory with funding from the North Carolina Coronavirus Relief Fund established by the North Carolina General Assembly and leverages NCCU RCMI Center for Health Disparities funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).  NCCU ACCORD recently launched the BRAVE program focused on American Indians and funded by the NIMHD in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina.

NCCU’s ACCORD program is providing educational outreach, including the distribution of materials at COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites. As part of the initiative, results from the surveys are also shared with community members.

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