As more Canadians get vaccinated for COVID-19, there is hesitancy among some minorities.
Experts say while the mistrust is rooted in history, institutional racism still exists today.
Urella Mason moved to Toronto from St. Lucia, in the Caribbean, nearly 50 years ago.
“We haven’t gone through what people down south have, but it’s still our people, our generation,” she said.
When it comes to COVID-19, Mason says she has little trust in the health-care system.
“As a Black woman, knowing what has happened in the past... I don’t think I’m ready to take that vaccine.”
Vaccine hesitancy “refers to the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines, despite availability of vaccine services,” as defined by the World Health Organization.
Similar to some other members of African, Caribbean, Black and Indigenous communities, Mason isn’t alone in her concern.
A Toronto man in his 40s, also from St. Lucia, told CTV News he will not be taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I just don’t trust any messaging from the government,” he said.
Some of their reservations stem back to the 1930s, in what is known as the Tuskegee Study.
For roughly 40 years, hundreds of Black men in Alabama were part of a scientific experiment on untreated syphilis. The men thought they were receiving treatment for bad blood.
Gordon Thane, a health promotion specialist and member of an educational organization called The Public Health Insight, said those working in health care need to address the trauma from then, and now.
“We know that in the health-care system there is still institutional racism. Black patients are more likely to be under-prescribed for pain medications for the same conditions,” he said.
Thane points to the Three-Cs model of vaccine hesitancy: Complacency, Confidence, Convenience.
“There’s a trust issue. We know we have a very hurtful medical past,” he said.
Thane and Toronto Public Health agree one strategy is to use ambassadors in certain communities as a messenger of accurate information.
“We can provide the right information through a trusted source we know that that can actually play a very big role,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health.
“We’ve had questions if the vaccine is Koscher or Halal. Those are very specific community-related questions that we have to be willing to answer,” she said.
The United States has significantly more data collected to gauge vaccine hesitancy among minorities.
Experts and health officials in Ontario agree more polling needs to be done to better address the problem.