DETROIT — Mecca Shabazz has yet to get vaccinated against COVID-19. She doesn’t believe she needs it, despite evidence that the virus disproportionately sickens and kills Black people.
“I just wasn’t pressed to do it. It’s not a big thing to me,” Shabazz said Tuesday as a team sent out by Detroit’s health department knocked on doors in her westside neighborhood to tell residents where to receive free vaccines.
Reporters shadowing the teams spoke with residents. Some, citing their concerns about vaccine safety, said they had no interest in getting the shots.
The mostly Black city has been urging people to get vaccinated against the virus that has already killed more than 2,000 Detroit residents. City health officials have confirmed more than 47,600 cases since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, only about 31% of Detroit adults have received at least one dose. That’s less than the state’s 50% vaccination rate. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that about half of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one COVID-19 shot.
Detroit’s door-to-door campaign is the latest in its efforts to connect residents to vaccination sites across the city.
Various campaigns also are underway in Black and other communities of color across the U.S. to persuade people that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in late March found that about 24% of African American adults said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated. That was down from 41% in January. The latest number shows Black Americans leaning against getting shots in almost the same proportion as white Americans at 26% and Hispanic Americans at 22%.
“I feel like I’m healthy,” said Shabazz, a 26-year-old Black woman. “It’s really like I’m not scared about it. I’m not afraid of getting sick.”
She is among the target group Detroit officials want to reach: those 40 years and younger who have vaccine hesitancy, according to Victoria Kovari, who is leading Detroit’s $1 million vaccination canvassing effort that is being funded through the state with money from FEMA.
“The most common response is to wait and see … their family and friends get vaccinated so they’re comfortable (with the idea),” Kovari told reporters Tuesday, but “it’s better to be vaccinated than on a ventilator.”
“The seniors are very enthusiastic,” Kovari said of Detroit’s older residents. More than 79,000 doses have been administered to people 50 years and older. “We’ve just got to get that message out more.”
At least 70 canvassers are going door-to-door, speaking to residents who answer or leaving flyers saying where to get vaccinated.
The work started in March in small pockets of the city, but the major push began Saturday and about 5,000 doors had been knocked on through Monday. Getting face-to-face time proved difficult as some doors were not answered, even though cars were parked out front.
Anthony Brinson said the objective was to let people know “where to go, what to do and who to call.”
“I think when they know the facts, it will help,” said Brinson, who worked Tuesday morning with canvassers in Shabazz’s neighborhood. “This is a safe vaccine that’s out for us to take. Why not take advantage of it?”
Leslie Fields, 34, is not yet sold on vaccines.
Fields pointed to the Tuskegee experiment, an infamous study in Tuskegee, Alabama, where the government let hundreds of Black men suffer untreated syphilis for 40 years for research purposes.
“I don’t want to take it. I don’t want to be experimented on,” said Fields, who is Black. “I don’t judge people for taking the vaccination. We’re all in limbo, right now. We all have to make the best decision for ourselves.”
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