Friday, 28 January 2022

“COVID-19 and Vaccination in Black Communities” webinar

by Olivia Barrett

Webinar banner

Screenshot of panel members

Professor Josephine Etowa

The “COVID-19 and Vaccination in Black Communities” project was funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research. This project is led by the Interdisciplinary Center for Black Health at the University of Ottawa.

Doctors Hugues Loemba and Ruby Edet joined by Pastor Joseph Jr Clorméus and Imam Djibril Diallo, discussed the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the Black community in Ottawa. The COVID-19 and Vaccination in Black Communities panel examined issues and concerns around reasons for vaccine hesitancy in Black communities.

Moderated by Jude Mary Cénat and Josephine Etowa of the University of Ottawa’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Black Health, the religious leaders and doctors explained the barriers impeding vaccination rates within the Islamic and Christian communities.

“Black communities are not monolithic,” said Loemba through an interpreter, explaining there cannot be one solution for vaccine hesitancy. “There’s actually a lot of different perceptions when it comes to these vaccines,” he said while talking about distrust towards the healthcare system because of a lack of accessible information and negative experiences with the healthcare system in the past.  

After giving a number of presentations to Black communities about healthcare, Loemba noticed the central issues stayed constant: lack of trust and lack of information.

Edet explained how this can stem from medical Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from experiencing medical racism. “There have been many efforts throughout this pandemic to target the ACB communities,” Edet said while explaining how the pandemic has disproportionately affected this community. She also talked about the efforts Somerset West Community Health Centre has taken, such as an ACB vaccine hub, with input from the community.

“We do not have race-segregated data to inform strategies, we have actually used feedback from the community to direct this strategy,” she said, explaining how collaborative efforts with Ottawa Public Health, Ottawa Black Mental Health Coalition, and Black Physicians of Ontario made this vaccine hub possible.

“What is most unique about this vaccine clinic, is the opportunity to have the Afro-centric interaction with ACB internationally trained medical doctors,” Edet said while talking about the vaccine hub’s advantages, such as an absence of language and communication barriers.

The difficulty to sum up the distrust and challenges for vaccine hesitancy in Black communities into one solution was discussed by all the panelists, as they explained the variety of reasons for vaccine hesitancy. 

Pastor Clorméus talked about some reasons individuals in his church were hesitant to take the vaccine due to their religion. He explained how the vaccine was seen as a form of government control and “the government acting as an agent of the devil,” he said through a translator, because of the closures of places of worship. He said this contributed to increased suspicion of the government as the sentiment there should “be trust in God and not the vaccine” grew.

Clorméus and Diallo discussed the role of social media in the spread of misinformation and how it grew rapidly in religious communities. Clorméus explained how the absence of virtual religious spaces and lack of theological discussion around the vaccine led to conspiracy theories filling these spaces. Diallo added to this, explaining the dichotomy created by the vaccine. “They’re not looking for anyone to convince them, they’re just looking for someone to support their idea. If not, they will reject you,” Diallo said, explaining how he has seen people turn against others based on their support of the vaccine.  

“These social networks really amplify this distrust,” Loemba said, talking about how easily rumours heard on social media are accepted. While talking about the impact of social media outlets such as WhatsApp, Edet said these channels can be used “to also circulate the truth and circulate the facts would be very important for our community.”

The panelists also discussed some solutions they said they think would help boost vaccination rates in the ACB community. Clorméus talked about the government working with religious leaders and showing them getting vaccinated to increase trust around the vaccine, as distrust in the healthcare system is one of the largest barriers currently to vaccination rates. “I think there has to be a stronger approach in the communication to our communities that understands the strength of the religious elements,” Clorméus said and explained how diverse communication can help foster trust towards the government and healthcare system.

“There cannot be one particular solution or strategy that could somehow eradicate this problem,” Diallo said as he explained two approaches to increasing vaccination rates that rely on the community instead of the government. He explained how sermons can be used to connect worship to everyday life and the importance of bringing in individuals from the community who understand cultural nuances. “There is more inviting and reassurance than listening to someone who is paid or elected to do a job,” Diallo said, explaining the benefits of having a community-led approach to vaccine hesitancy.

Loemba and Edet also echoed the importance of building and having trust in the healthcare systems and science as they are here to help. “I’m very happy to hear that: to avoid demonizing people, to avoid discrimination,” Edet said. She focused on educating and reminding people of the efficacy of the vaccine.

Edet explained the importance of supporting healing from medical PTSD and fostering trust through long-term measures.

“Addressing this from a systemic level with a lot of honesty, recognizing the reality that these things have existed long before now,” she said, once the community is able to see that honesty and change and that these strategies are geared towards not just COVID-19 or ending the pandemic, but towards the general wellbeing of the ACB person, … we will see less and less hesitancy and more confidence.”

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Olivia Barrett

Olivia Barrett is a Bachelors of Journalism and Humanities student at Carleton University. Her interests include photography and poetry which she uses to explore social justice issues and other intriguing fields. She also loves learning about history and ancient religions.  Olivia writes on social issues, well-being, and out of curiosity.