Medical experts hoping to build coronavirus vaccine trust among Florida minorities

'I'm not a vaccine-type of person,' FAMU student says
Coronavirus vaccine experts vow to keep process transparent
Posted at 4:49 PM, Dec 08, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Will you take it? Research continues to show minorities in Florida have safety concerns over the two forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines.

While the FDA reviews them for emergency use, efforts are underway around the state to build trust in people questioning the shots. Without it, researchers worry the entire state may suffer.

Pfizer and Moderna may be only weeks away from shipping the first doses to the state, with many more expected next year. Even so, it's not hard to find those leery of taking them.

Two in ten American adults told Pew Research last month they'd likely decline. That's despite drug makers reporting 95% efficacy for both products.

"I'm not a vaccine-type of person," said Courtney Steward, a Florida A&M University student. "I’ve never taken a flu shot, and I'm perfectly fine."

"I want to see what's going on with the first round before making an executive decision," said fellow FAMU student Jason Tyler.

Reservations are considerably high among Black Americans, according to Pew. Fewer than half surveyed, 42%, planned to get inoculated.

Louis Elias, a Tallahassee resident, told us he wanted to wait at least a year, maybe longer.

"My colleagues and friends up here ... they're more or less worried if they're going to get the virus from the vaccine," Elias said.

University of Florida's Dr. Folakemi Odedina has been studying minority vaccine concerns and said it won't be easy to change minds.

"We really have an uphill battle to make sure these vaccines are well received by the communities we serve," said the professor of pharmacotherapy and translational research.

Odedina has started working with a coalition of experts on the issue. They include those from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Florida International University, Florida A&M University, Moffitt Cancer Center, and Health Choice Network.

Known as the "Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities," or Florida CEAL Team, the scientists are listening to minority focus groups and helping conduct vaccine trials.

"They don't trust the fact that the whole issue of COVID-19 has been politicized," said Odedina. "That increases the mistrust.”

Reaching those populations, she said, is vital. Vaccinations will better shield them as COVID disproportionately affects minorities. More vaccinations will also ensure Florida achieves herd immunity, eventually ending virus protection measures.

The CEAL team is planning a statewide effort in the coming months to not only inform minority populations but enlist local leaders and well-known people from their communities to advocate for vaccination.

"We want to make sure the people that are talking to us about this look like us," Odedina said.

Florida’s Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz recently said Florida Health will likely spearhead the state’s vaccine communications effort. Details about what that would look like are few— though the director said he too wants local representation.

"We're not just barking stuff up from here in Tallahassee," said Moskowitz. "They have got to get it from people they trust. That is important."

Florida officials will have time to plan. Vaccine supply won't likely reach levels needed for mass distribution until next year. Moskowitz anticipated a timeline of late spring or summer.