Dr. Thaddeus Bell, a North Charleston private practice doctor, has heard just about every myth and untruth there has been to share regarding the coronavirus and the vaccine in his interactions with patients and other medical advocacy groups in the Lowcountry.
Figures showed the Black community in particular seemed far more hesitant to receive the vaccine or seek other treatment for COVID symptoms, especially early on. Bell points to a historical mistrust of medicine due to cruel pasts regarding poor treatment of minorities at the hands of medical professionals. On top of that, more recent history has also served to sow division.
“We had a lot of misinformation being given about the vaccine, and all the other social issues Black people were dealing with at the time — Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, everything — all of this kind of came to a head and caused a lot of mistrust among African Americans,” he explained.
Social media as well, he continued, has not been a friend to the discussion. “It has propagated a lot of myths and untruths regarding the vaccine,” he said. Some people he has spoken to believed the vaccine was just a way for the government to control or directly harm the Black community, a fear Bell said is not baseless when you look at the historical context.
“As it turns out, all of it was untrue,” Bell said.
Bell said he has had great success leading people out of these pits of uncertainty, particularly because he has garnered a reputation of respect and trust among the community. He said all it takes is an honest discussion with someone you trust, and for a lot of younger people today, that can be the biggest hurdle — relationships with health care providers are rarer today than they used to be, he said.
From sitting in barbershops and answering questions from curious acquaintances to scheduled appearances on radio shows and at public demonstrations, Bell is always ready to share the power of vaccines. He also gave a short presentation Aug. 21 at MUSC busting some common myths.
“You need to be very, very upfront, and you need to let people know you’re aware of the distrust that has gone on for decades — centuries even — and then you need to pivot from that and try to explain, in a way people can understand, why you trust the vaccine.”