Some African Americans reluctant to get COVID-19 tests; health leaders working to address problem

Updated: Jan. 25, 2021 at 6:14 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As Louisiana craves more vials of COVID-19 vaccines there is another problem: people who are reluctant to be tested for the virus. The National Institutes of Health has tapped LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center to find out why and help to address the problem.

Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk is associate Executive Director of Population and Public Health Sciences and one of the leaders of the effort at Pennington.

“Are the barriers related to transportation or childcare or the inability to take time off work? We need to better understand those factors,” said Katzmarzyk.

Pennington Biomedical is one of 55 institutions across the country the NIH has enlisted to do the work. Katzmarzyk said their study will begin in February and will include focus groups and outreach to community centers, schools, and churches for the possible use of those facilities for testing.

“A lot of people, they still don’t want to know if they have the disease because once they know they have the disease they feel an obligation that they have to take time off work so they can maybe avoid infecting other people, they may have to self-isolate from others including their family members and rather than having to know this information and do this, a lot of people, they don’t want to know, and so we have to break down those barriers,” said Katzmarzyk.

Dr. Eric Griggs is a health educator.

“People are very hesitant right now and the problem is the fact that while we’re being hesitant the virus isn’t, it’s doing everything it can to permeate into as much of our human species as possible, it’s not going to stop,” Griggs said.

And timing they say is critical in terms of vaccinations given the new mutations of the virus.

“Now that the vaccines are coming online, we really need to understand the best venues or the best sites where people will go to get tests for example, and in the future where they might go to get the vaccine,” said Katzmarzyk. “We really need to get the vaccinations; we need to really ensure that people have access to testing which is still very important in the community.”

Griggs said there are trust issues in terms of healthcare and some African Americans.

“It’s distrust in the healthcare system, it’s the recent vilification of science, the uncertainty of everything,” he said.

Healthcare professionals like Griggs acknowledge that there are things that occurred in the past that contributed to a lot of distrust among blacks.

“We have the Tuskegee Experiment, you have the Henrietta Lacks [experiment],” stated Griggs.

Katzmarzyk agrees.

“There’s earned mistrust in the community. It’s there, it’s real, fortunately, we have a lot of leaders in the community that understand that, and we have physicians that are trusted by the community and they’re doing their best to get the word out, to get the science out, you know, the credible facts that people need to understand and one of those is that these vaccines work,” said Katzmarzyk.

Griggs underscored the safety of testing and the COVID vaccines.

“This entire process of vaccine development, the entire process of testing is a safe and clinically tested protocol,” he said.

And equity related to who is getting vaccinated is important to state government. Governor John Bel Edwards and State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter say a majority of the data provided to the La. Department of Health lacks the race of vaccine recipients.

Griggs said such information is critical.

“The racial data is of the utmost importance and my hat is off to Dr. [Joe] Kanter and the governor for actually bringing that to light. We need the data; everything that we do is evidence-based and the only way that we’re going to gain public trust and keep public trust and keep our communities safe is with data,” said Griggs.

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