To fight vaccine hesitancy, Black-owned barber shops double as COVID-19 vaccination sites in some U.S. cities
EDMONTON -- As the rate of Black Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 lags behind those of other groups, officials in the U.S. are turning to barber shops and hair salons to combat vaccine misinformation.
“We talk about their darkest secrets, so I know that they trust me because they share a lot with me,” Katrina Randolph, owner of Tres Shadez Hair Salon in Capitol Heights, Md., told CTV National News.
“So why not get vaccinated? Why not allow me to help you make a decision to save your life.”
In early June, the Biden administration announced it had teamed up with several organizations, including the Black Coalition Against COVID, to launch an initiative called "Shots at the Shop," encouraging Black-owned barber shops and beauty salons to promote vaccine education and outreach on a local level.
Shops like Randolph’s help to share accurate information about vaccines with their customers, even hosting on-site vaccination events in partnership with local health care providers.
“It’s familiar… not an office… I feel comfortable getting the shot here,” said Tres Shadez client Skylar Moses.
U.S. federal data shows that less than a third of Black Americans have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – the lowest of any racial or ethnic group in the country.
Historic discrimination and damning reports involving racialized patients have deepened mistrust in Black, Indigenous and communities of colour, leading to vaccine hesitancy -- defined by the World Health Organization as people purposely delaying receiving available vaccines.
For Black Americans, some of those reservations stem back to the unethical Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, which lasted from 1932 to 1972, where researchers from the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) purposefully didn’t treat Black patients infected with Syphilis to observe the “natural history” of the untreated disease.
And despite the fact that racialized communities face a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, a U.S. survey conducted in late 2020 found higher levels of vaccine hesitancy and distrust in Black and Latinx populations compared to their white counterparts due, in part, to a lack of confidence in the government.
“In the early days of the pandemic, the most common source of disinformation about COVID was coming out of the White House,” Dr. Stephen Thomas, professor at the University of Maryland Centre for Health Equity, told CTV National News.
“So, ‘It’s all a hoax,’ ‘It’s just like the flu…’ that was marinating in our communities.”
But several studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA Internal Medicine, have found that partnerships with local barber shops are helpful in promoting public health initiatives in Black communities, such as screening for diabetes and monitoring high blood pressure.
Randolph says about 75 per cent of the clients she’s spoken to in her salon have opted to get the vaccine after speaking to her, building confidence in the community one shot at a time.