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W. Kamau Bell on Combatting COVID-19 Vaccine Worries Among Black People — in a Country That's 'Earned Our Distrust'

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W. Kamau Bell, Bay Area comedian and CNN host, says he wants to be part of the solution to make sure Black folks get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It makes sense that a lot of Black people of all shapes, sizes, shades would be distrustful" of the COVID-19 vaccine, says W. Kamau Bell. "This country has earned our distrust.”

The Bay Area comedian and host of “United Shades of America" on CNN is part of a new campaign that's aiming to dispel misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine in Black communities.

Bell has partnered with a coalition of Black health care professionals — including several based in the Bay Area — to create "The Conversation: Between Us, About Us." It’s a comprehensive video series that addresses vaccine safety, effectiveness and other frequently asked questions.

KQED’s Brian Watt spoke with W. Kamau Bell about the campaign on KQED Radio. Read on for the highlights:

'At the Blunt End'

Surveys show that Black Americans, who have disproportionately suffered from COVID-19, are more hesitant than white Americans to get the vaccine. According to a recent KQED report, that hesitancy is often based on current health disparities — rather than historical references like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

“You have to take in the history of the medical industry in this country — the history of the government and how Black folks have felt like we've been at the blunt end of that,” Bell said.

Bell says the the campaign's approach reflects the importance of trust. He says this crucial issue couldn’t be addressed with just one person, in one short video.

Rather, in one sequence, the doctors say they have either gotten the vaccine or are anxiously awaiting to get it. “For me, it’s the fact that it’s not just one doctor,” Bell said.

“They could have very easily gotten the leading Black doctor to talk about this, or the lead Black scientist. But the fact that it’s many, many, many Black faces, you get the feeling that this is something the community is telling you."

'The Biggest Information Gap'

Health experts say communication about getting the vaccine is just as crucial as supply and access, as the rollout continues in California and across the country.

Part of the challenge is that the COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with an increasing erosion of trust regarding information sources — and the coronavirus has spread during a heightened era of disinformation. With "The Conversation: Between Us, About Us," Bell and his collaborators want to combat this information gap that ultimately affects everyone.

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“It’s not just Black folks who are dealing with the fact that there's an information gap,” Bell said. “We live in maybe the biggest information gap since the Middle Age[s]. "

"So I think it is important for those of us who are in positions of privilege, who have that blue check mark on Twitter to really pass the mic to people — that we say 'these are the vetted sources. These are the people who you should really be listening to.' ”

As scientists prepare for the next pandemic, the lesson from this COVID-19 crisis might be that the right information could save many lives.

And if that next pandemic arrives? “Maybe we'll handle it better — because we have relationships with these doctors and nurses and researchers,” Bell said.

Find more information at BetweenUsAboutUs.org

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