A recent survey shows three-quarters of Indigenous people in the U.S. are willing to consider getting a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s a higher acceptance rate than the general U.S. population, even though many Native people still feel concerns about safety and mistrust due to historical traumas. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke about the findings with Abigail Echo-Hawk, director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, which conducted the survey.
So you surveyed American Indian and Alaska Native people about whether or not they’re willing to get the coronavirus vaccine. Can you tell me just what you found out?
One of the key findings is that Native people, 74% of Native people, were willing to consider getting the vaccine based on their commitment to ensuring the health and wellbeing of their communities moving forward. That’s really different when you look at what’s happening in other populations. In fact, that same question was asked in African American and Latinx communities and did not find that same result.
Why do you think the acceptance rate for vaccination is really fairly high compared to some other groups, many other groups in the country?
Native people have the biggest reasons to feel that the vaccine is bad for them. If we look at the historical context of Native people being tested on, of not being provided proper health care, and if we look at how COVID-19 has absolutely devastated our communities in the numbers of deaths and the numbers of infections, Native people have all the reasons in the world is to be the most hesitant. The reason they aren’t is because they want to make sure the health of our communities is going to work to save our elders and preserve the future for our next generations. Using those cultural values and strengths, they were willing to consider getting the vaccine. But still, it was very important for them to find out all the information they need to make that choice…. That willingness to get vaccinated also had hesitancy, but hesitancy we can overcome by getting the right information to them.
Can you tell me about some of their concerns?
We saw across people who were willing to get vaccinated and even those who were unwilling to get vaccinated, a really deep concern about the potential side effects…. There are others who, again, were afraid that we were being tested on, that there hadn’t been proper research done, and were distrustful of the federal government who has not served our people well and has in fact has harmed them multiple times. We saw these common hesitations come up. Some of them we can overcome…. To this point in time, there hasn’t been enough data on American Indians and Alaska Natives and COVID vaccine hesitancy, for us to be able to create the public health materials—the posters, the pamphlets, the social media ads—that can assist them in making a good choice. Now that we have this information, I want to see this country using it.
Tell me more about that. Why is it critical to collect this kind of information on Native American communities?
Right now, across the country, in particular in the midst of COVID-19, we’ve seen a rise in the fact that race and ethnicity isn’t being collected properly, if at all. As a result of that the impacts of COVID and other diseases, really, the effects are hidden. Instead, we have these stories from our communities and we know what’s happening, but it’s not reflected in the data. When it comes to public health campaigns looking to overcome things like vaccine hesitancy, it is absolutely key to gather the data needed to be able to make good informed decisions, to be able to do the good science…of taking this data and using it to create messaging that meets the needs of the people who are searching for information. If you are not using data and information to create these materials that meets the individual’s and the community’s needs, they’re not going to acknowledge it, they’re not going to listen to it, and we’re not going to end this pandemic…. But it’s also an opportunity to create a new normal, where Native people have the data we need to… address health disparities that uses information from Indigenous people, by Indigenous people.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
Thank you so much.