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Doctors tackle COVID-19 vaccine mistrust through outreach

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Tompkins County
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YouTube Screenshot
Dr. Jada Hamilton during a Q&A session with residents of color on Wednesday, Feb. 10. 2021

When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, doctors are often responsible for giving out information. But not everyone has a doctor they trust, especially in communities of color.

Jada Hamilton is a family physician and deputy medical director at Cornell Health. Hamilton, who is Black, spoke with Tompkins County residents during a Q&A session hosted by the county’s health department this month focused on concerns from people of color about the vaccine.

“Not everybody necessarily has a relationship, or a good relationship, with their physician or clinician, and that can be from a bad experience or just can be underinsured or lack of insurance,” Hamilton said. “Not everyone’s going to have that primary care person to go to for any of their health care needs.”

Studies show people of color are less likely to use primary care practices as their usual source of care. Black and Latinx patients use emergency rooms and hospital outpatient services as their primary source of care at nearly twice the rate of white Americans, even though the average emergency department visit is five times more expensive than a visit to a primary care office.

That correlates with other data that show Black Americans have worse health outcomes than white Americans nationally, including higher rates of heart disease and high blood pressure—both preventable with adequate and consistent primary care. Without a familiar family physician they trust, patients have restricted access to preventative care and information, including about the COVID-19 vaccines.

The systemic barriers to primary care include centuries of housing segregation, economic discrimination and historic medical racism that has led to medical mistrust. With so much stacked against patients of color seeking care, Hamilton said she believes it is her responsibility as a physician, and also a Black physician, to be forthcoming with answers about the vaccine and other medical questions to the community.

“I think people in my position sometimes assume that if the community wants to hear from me they’re going to reach out to me,” Hamilton said. “But I think often it’s incumbent on us—myself—to be able to say, ‘Hey, does somebody want to hear from a physician on X, Y and Z.'”

Tompkins County will hold more Q&A Office Hours on the vaccine, including a session for older adults and for Spanish speakers on Wednesday, Feb. 24.