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National

Black Doctors Use Social Media To Share Accurate Information About COVID-19 Vaccine

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

About a quarter of the American public is hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine. That number goes up to a third of Black Americans, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month. The hesitancy is rooted in real mistreatment and fanned by myths and misinformation. As NPR's Pien Huang reports, some Black doctors are finding creative ways to encourage vaccine acceptance.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: While very few vaccine safety problems have been reported, a lot of rumors are still floating online. Dr. Kristamarie Collman has been tackling COVID myths on TikTok. She's a family physician in Orlando, and she describes one of the recent short videos she made to counter misinformation.

KRISTAMARIE COLLMAN: So, yeah. So with the video, I am using a trending song...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ICE")

MORGENSHTERN: (Rapping in Russian.)

COLLMAN: ...That people can relate to. And as we can hear with the song, it says mm-mm (ph). No, that's not true. So I say the COVID vaccine will make you infertile. And I say, mm-mm (ph), that's not true.

HUANG: She posted the 12-second video in early December, and it's been viewed more than half a million times.

COLLMAN: And then I do a dance at the end, which people can relate to as well (laughter).

HUANG: A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine looked at public health messages geared at communities of color. It showed that Black Americans are more receptive to information if it comes from Black doctors like Collman.

COLLMAN: For some people, it means a lot when it comes from someone who looks like them, when it comes from someone who speaks like them.

HUANG: But only 5% of physicians in the U.S. are Black. Robert Drummond is another Black doctor that's turned to social media to share accurate information more broadly. He's an urgent care physician in Los Angeles. And on a recent Instagram live chat, he noted another big reason why people are wary of COVID vaccines with TV actor Dondre Whitfield.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT DRUMMOND: First, let me start by acknowledging the mistrust and acknowledging and understanding that there actually is a very real basis for that mistrust.

DONDRE WHITFIELD: Well said.

HUANG: This deep distrust goes back to the history of medical experimentation on slaves. It also goes back to the mid-1900s, when Black men were deliberately not treated for syphilis so researchers could see what would happen. And it comes up to the present day. Just last week, a Black doctor named Susan Moore died from COVID-19 after alleging poor treatment at the hospital. When she asked for more pain medication, she said her white doctor made her feel like a drug addict. In the Instagram chat, Drummond pointed to a survey a couple of years ago showing that a lot of doctors still wrongly believe that African Americans have a higher tolerance for pain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DRUMMOND: Everything from they thought we had thicker skin to we have a reduced - or we have a heightened pain threshold so we don't need as much medication. This didn't - this is not from 1900s.

WHITFIELD: Right.

DRUMMOND: This is not from the 1960s. This is from the late 2000s - right now.

WHITFIELD: Unbelievable.

HUANG: As a Black man who's part of the medical establishment, Drummond says his job is not to tell people to get vaccines and said he wants to help people make their own informed decisions. But not everyone lives online. Allison Mathews, a sociologist at Wake Forest University, is researching how to increase trust in COVID vaccines. In addition to the Internet...

ALLISON MATHEWS: We've used conference lines as well as mailed stuff out to people. You have to meet people where they are in whatever level of communication is the most convenient for them.

HUANG: Mathews says that beyond Black doctors, there are other community leaders that are trusted for advice. She works with Black church leaders and sororities and civil rights groups, too. Generating trust in the health system is not a new challenge in the Black community, says Dr. Lisa Cooper, who directs the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity.

LISA COOPER: Even before COVID-19 came up, a lot of the work that I did to try to address disparities in health care was focused on having African Americans and people who are traditionally not given the sense of power and control in their health care play a more active role.

HUANG: For Cooper, the challenge is not just about overcoming vaccine hesitancy. It's for the medical community to learn how to build real trust. Pien Huang, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MTBRD'S "PHONE CALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.