Dr. Fauci Says COVID Vaccine Rollout Isn't Failing Black Community Despite Challenges, Skepticism

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading expert on infectious disease, told Newsweek that Black Americans are not being failed by the coronavirus vaccine rollout, and the Biden administration is taking significant steps to get Black people inoculated.

This was in response to questions about a poll which indicates a large number of Black Americans are skeptical about taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

A poll released by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research on February 10 found that hesitancy around the vaccine was more prominent among Black Americans compared with other ethnicities.

The survey, conducted on 1,055 adults between January 28 to February 1, revealed that Black Americans were less likely than white Americans to say they have received the shot or will definitely or probably get vaccinated, 57 percent compared to 68 percent.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans are 1.1 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than white Americans, are 2.9 times more likely to need hospitalization and 1.9 times more likely to die from the disease.

Asked about the poll, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House's chief medical adviser, said that the vaccine rollout wasn't failing African-Americans.

"I don't think you could say that it's failing African Americans. We have a situation in the United States that is historic. We are trying our best and, in some respects, succeeding because we're putting a lot of effort into reaching out to the African American community," he told Newsweek.

The hesitancy towards the vaccine from Black Americans often stems from past breaches of ethics in state-funded research, such as the infamous Tuskegee study, he said.

In that 1932 experiment, Black men were kept untreated for syphilis, even after penicillin was found to be a cure. Dozens of participants died as a result of the Tuskegee study, after nearly 400 Black men were denied treatment for decades.

Fauci said even though most African-Americans wouldn't have even been born when the study was carried out, the painful memories of the experiment have been passed down generations.

Fauci said he had spent a lot of time reaching out to Black organisations, churches, and caucuses to say that the government respects the reasons for hesitancy, but ethical constraints that have been put in place to prevent medical racism from happening again "are really solid."

Some ethnic minorities are distrustful of the state and pharmaceutical giants. To counter this, Dr. Fauci said he and his team point out the significant representation of minorities in the vaccine trials. He also stressed that the decision whether the vaccine is safe and effective is made by independent bodies with no ties to the government and pharmaceutical companies.

"When you tell African-Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups that, it's extraordinary that most of them didn't fully realise that the process has so many safeguards. I don't think you're going to get everybody who feels that strong hesitancy to all of a sudden agree to get vaccinated, but we are putting a major effort into that," he said.

"In fact, finally President Biden has established an equity Task Force, to make sure that there are not inequities in the availability and the outreach to the African-American community."

Fauci pointed out that that task force is headed by Marcella Nunez-Smith, an African-American physician for Yale School of Medicine.

The White House adviser estimates that between 70 and 85 percent of America's population needs to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity. But he is concerned at the rise in disinformation around the vaccine and virus, and that some lawmakers promote conspiracy theories around it.

"As a physician, scientist and a public health person, I'm very disturbed by the misinformation that's out there. And I guess one of the ways we can counter it is by continuing to get the correct science and evidence-based information out there," he said.

Dr. Fauci at NIH meeting
White House Chief Medical Advisor on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, listens to President Joe Biden (out of frame) speak during a visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, February 11, 2021. Despite the large number of Black Americans who are skeptical about taking the COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. rollout is not failing the community, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Newsweek. Sam Loeb/Getty