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COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence and the Black Community: Opportunities for Social Workers?

Approximately 14 percent of all COVID-19 deaths have been among Black Americans, while they represent 12.6 percent of the population (CDC, 2023). Although White and Black Americans have similar crude mortality rates; the Black American age-adjusted mortality rate is around 60 percent higher than the same measure for white Americans and even though racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates have narrowed since vaccinations became available, Black Americans continue to bear greater risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 than White and Asian people (CDC, 2023). Importantly, millions of people, including Black Americans, are still not vaccinated (CDC, 2023). On average, 150 people a day are dying from COVID-19; most of these individuals are unvaccinated. COVID-19 continues to be one of the top 10 causes of death (CDC, 2023).

Some vaccination hesitancy stems from perceptions about personal level of risk, negative experiences with health care providers and or systems, religious and/or philosophical beliefs, socio-political views, perceptions of vaccine development process, beliefs about health and prevention, social/peer group norms, perceptions, and communication/media environment. Particularly in the Black community, vaccine hesitancy is associated with systemic racism and historical events (Sina, 2021).

Here is a little history on why some Black Americans distrust COVID-19 vaccines. The Black community has fallen victim to systemic racism within the healthcare system in historical incidents such as the Tuskegee Experiment (Alsan,2018) and the “Father of Gynecology” experiment (Wall,2006). Those historic and some current incidents of healthcare oppression are not only traumatizing but had a long-term negative impact on the social emotional and physical health of the Black community.

As a fellow social worker, I encourage you to visit the Connect to End COVID-19 website to obtain some of the tools, resources, and information needed to inform, educate, and protect the Black community from the COVID-19 virus and to prevent further severe illness and death.

The Connect to End COVID-19 initiative is a partnership between the NASW and the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute (HBRT) at The University of Texas at Austin Steve Hicks School of Social Work. This effort is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The partnership includes national webinars, and virtual chapter hosted skills trainings on using Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) to support clients in vaccination decision making. Both are free and provide free CEUs.

The role of social work in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is to disrupt systems of oppression and advocating for at risk individuals inside and out of the healthcare system. I urge you to join me in engaging with the Connect to End COVID-19 effort, and to obtain information and skills that you can deploy in supporting clients in the Black community in their vaccine decision making.

Below are important facts regarding COVID-19 vaccination:

1.) Fewer than 70% of Americans are fully vaccinated and fewer than 18% of those people have received the recommended, updated booster that was approved in September 2022(CDC, 2023).

2.) Over 1.1 million people have died of COVID-19 infection; most were unvaccinated, even though the vaccines were widely available (CDC, 2023).

3.) Vaccines are safe and highly effective; being up to date on vaccination is the best way to prevent severe illness (CDC, 2023).

4.) A rigorous scientific process, clinical evidence, and outcome data for millions of people demonstrates that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and efficacious for people aged 6 months and over (CDC, 2023).

5.) The benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh the risks of severe illness, hospitalization,

death, Long COVID, and other negative outcomes (CDC, 2023).

6.) Although people who are up to date on vaccinations can experience a breakthrough infection,

they are much less likely to become severely ill or die of it (CDC, 2023)

Here are a few facts about our role as a social worker.

1.) Social workers are committed to the well-being of all people.

2.) Social workers are trusted messengers in their communities.

3.) Social workers have long served as an essential workforce in responding to disasters,

including public health crises.

4.) Social workers possess unique skills in supporting clients in informed decision making about becoming vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the Black community is an issue that social workers can help combat some of the resources provided in the CONNECT to end COVID-19 campaign. The partnership between the CDC and NASW provides educational resources, tools, and trainings to assist social workers with combating vaccine hesitancy particularly in underserved communities. I hope that this article assists you in your practice and advocating and educating underserved populations.

Please visit the following links and websites for more information on

the connect to end COVID-19 campaign.

COVID-19 (general information) s-


Connect to End COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Initiative s-Diseases/COVID-19-Vaccine-Confidence

COVID-19 (


1. Alsan, M., & Wanamaker, M. (2018). TUSKEGEE AND THE HEALTH OF BLACK MEN. The quarterly journal of economics, 133(1), 407–455.

2. COVID Data Tracker Weekly Review. (2023) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. Sina-Odunsi A. J. (2021). COVID-19 vaccines inequity and hesitancy among African Americans. Clinical epidemiology and global health, 12, 100876.

4. Wall L. L. (2006). The medical ethics of Dr J Marion Sims: a fresh look at the historical record. Journal of medical ethics, 32(6), 346–350.

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