BALTIMORE, Md. — Nationwide vaccination efforts for COVID-19 aren't happening as fast as planned but doctors have another problem on their hands; many people of color don't want the vaccine.
As many celebrate Monday as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, many African-Americans point out history gives them a reason to mistrust the healthcare industry.
Specifically, the 40-year-long Tuskeegee Institute syphilis study.
Researchers deceived African-American men with the promise of free health care while unbeknownst to them, they were being used as test subjects in a deadly experiment.
Doctors hope having open conversations is one way to regain trust from people of color.
Doctors also want to face people's fears head on.
Several healthcare professionals with the University of Maryland Medical System are hosting a virtual town hall to hear questions and concerns about the vaccines.
The arrival of a vaccine for COVID-19 couldn't come soon enough for most while others need more time to be convinced before getting a shot in the arm.
Dr. Fermin Barrueto, Jr., Chief Medical Officer at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health said “there are some that we know we may not change your mind. I accept that, but we want to make sure that everybody that is still searching for facts, still searching for confirmation of a decision. We're here for those people.”
The Black and Latinx communities have been hit hard by the virus.
Besides inequities in healthcare, many African-Americans believe history has given them a reason to mistrust the vaccines.
So far in Maryland, the number of Black people who've got the vaccine is only about 25 percent of the total number of Whites who’ve been vaccinated.
For the Latinx community, t’s only about seven percent of the total number of Whites.
“This vaccine is a major breakthrough, a scientific miracle that is going to allow us to beat this pandemic. For those that are getting tired of masks, and not seeing your families, and congregating, this is the path forward,” Barrueto said.
Dr. Barrueto can count himself as one who has been vaccinated.
“I took the vaccine for my family, my parents that are above 75 and 78. I’m a father, a son, a brother. I did it for my hospital and the position that I’m in here,” Barrueto said.
Doctor Barrueto believes one of the next steps to getting more people vaccinated begins with answering their questions about the vaccines.
“Welcoming every single solitary question, the microchip question, the infertility question, the DNA, changing my DNA, all of those. You have to start with those,” Barrueto said.
Doctors taking part in the “Finding Hope” virtual town hall hope to address those concerns one-by-one.
“Women in child bearing age, that's a real concern. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has come out that the ingredients contained within the vaccine ,there is no contrary indication to receiving it, but I can't combat that with the fact that it has not been specifically studied,” Barrueto said.
Doctors also are focused on combating the fear of allergic reactions.
“Let them know that it's real. Let them know that the allergic reaction rate is actually quite low, you begin to change those minds,” Barrueto said.
It's just one goal doctor hope to achieve by holding a town hall.
“It will be such a shame if we can't get enough people to take the vaccine. It’s like refusing a cure for cancer, or refusing a cure for whatever ailment you may have,” Barrueto said.
Doctors hosting the town hall are ready to listen to those who don't want to get vaccinated.
“You want to hear the reason that they are concerned, afraid, or hesitant, I mean if you don't understand that, then you'll never be able to connect,” Barrueto said.
The panel session is being led by doctors who also are people of color.
The Finding Hope town hall starts at 11 a.m. on Monday and runs until noon.
The town hall is free to watch online on Zoom and Facebook Live. Anyone interested in attending is asked to register online here to participate.