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Medical experts trying to address vaccine skepticism among young Black adults

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 10:50:35-04

CINCINNATI — Club DJ and radio personality Korian Wilson -- also known as DJ J Dough on 101.1 The Wiz -- holds beliefs about the coronavirus vaccine that his friend and fellow DJ Tropikana said she's working overtime to remix.

While Tropikana said she'd get the injection tomorrow if she could, J Dough said he's not so sure, and it's that hesitance that medical experts expect will pervade some younger, more skeptical, populations, especially in Black communities.

"Yeah, [Tropikana's] on me heavy like: 'You know what, just shut up and get the vaccine.' And I'm like, 'Wait a minute. We don't know what's going to happen. It don't matter. You're not going to get COVID,'" J Dough said.

Tropikana said she finds herself talking to people every day about coronavirus and the three vaccines now available in the U.S.

"It's just something that I'm really passionate about," she said. "I just want to educate my peers so we can move forward as a community."

For J Dough, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johson vaccines all are still too new for him to want to sign up for the shot when he becomes eligible at the end of the month.

By March 29, all Ohioans of driving age will be vaccine-eligible.

"We gotta wait and see the outcome before we just go out and inject the vaccine in our bodies," he said. "That's the problem with a lot of young people. We don't have enough facts to really go off."

Tropikana doesn't just take to the airwaves to talk about the vaccine; she also engages roughly 33,600 followers on Instagram.

"I'm getting a lot of 'Nos.' Y'all don't want this vaccine," she said in one video. "Do y'all just want to stay in the house forever? Or y'all just really not comfortable with the idea of the vaccine?"

Engaging Black communities has proven to be a challenge in the three months since vaccines began rolling out to health care facilities across the country. Renee Mahaffey Harris, CEO of The Center for Closing the Health Gap, said the pandemic was already stacked against Black Cincinnatians and worries misinformation about the vaccine and hard-to-access health resources will prevent members of her community from taking an active role in their own care.

“As much good information or validated or factual information as we send out, there is information coming out on social media where somebody has heard something,” Mahaffey Harris said in a February interview with WCPO, adding later: “We have lost so many lives, and … people don't have all the information they need to make the best, informed decision about why they need to take the vaccine."

A recent NAACP survey found that hesitance about the vaccine is widespread among Black Americans — only about 14% of respondents trusted that it would be safe.

Dr. O’dell Owens, a member of Ohio’s Minority Vaccine Strike Force, said that distrust expands to the medical establishment in general with historical precedent.

The Tuskegee experiment -- in which Black Alabama men with syphilis between the 1930s and 1970s were recruited and denied treatment so doctors could observe the effects of the disease -- is a commonly cited example of racial abuse in American medicine.

Tropikana said she wasn't always so sure of the vaccines.

"My initial thought was I don't want to take this vaccine, and I don't want to catch COVID," she said.

Now, she worries too many of her peers are finding misinformation online as she once was.

"It was the same thing as everyone else, kind of just looking on social media, saying, 'They coming up with this too fast,' and you know the things they say," she said. "I think that in this culture we are at a huge battle with misinformation from social media."

She said it was, in part, her son who changed her way of thinking about getting vaccinated.

"I have a 5-year-old, and he was born prematurely," she said. "I wanted to educate myself so that I could be proactive in protecting my baby. It's so important that you do the research yourself to learn and take advantage of these resources that are available to you."

For J Dough, the vaccine isn't something he's ruled out entirely, he said.

"Once I find out, you know, more information about it and see the effect it has on different people, then yeah, I'll definitely think about getting it. But right now, it's a no for me."

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Senior Reporter Larry Seward is focusing his reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine to bring you answers and information. Contact Larry at 513-667-4804 or larry.seward@wcpo.com.