COVID-19 Vaccination Can Become the New Health Disparity for Communities of Color

Communicating the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine to communities of color and why people of color should get vaccinated must be done in culturally-relevant manner.

The fact that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color has been widely reported.  And, as the virus continues to spread, so too has its disproportionate impact due to many factors including systemic health disparities and social determinants of health that have long plagued people of color.

Now, studies show these same disproportionately impacted communities are the most distrusting of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A recent study conducted by the NAACP and UnidosUS found only 14 percent of Black Americans and 34 percent of Latino Americans trust a vaccine will be safe. Eighteen percent and 40 percent, respectively, trust the vaccine will be effective, according to the survey.  

This is not at all a surprise for those of us who know and understand the racial injustices surrounding vaccines that have been inflicted on people of color, in particular the Black community, throughout our nation’s history.  Many know of the Tuskegee Experiments, but they are hardly the only case of unethical and racist experiments on people of color.

So, what can be done?

Communicating the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and why people of color should get vaccinated needs to take on classic elements of strategic crisis communication, which begins with empathy. Both because of the historical reasons, as well as because these communities have experienced a disproportionate amount of trauma from the Coronavirus and from its ramifications including economic challenges.

This means governmental and health organization must ensure the people who are entrusted to develop the messages and the credible ways to communicate them to communities of color not only understand the historical contexts that shape their concerns and fuel their distrust, but that they are in an empathetic and credible position to do so.

This is not a case where the same communication and messaging can be done to all audiences or simply translated to other languages. Rather, messages must be culturally relevant, tailored and authentic to resonate with communities of color.  In multicultural marketing, we call this “Transcreation.”  

Further, organizations and governments should also enlist the help of influential surrogates who have the trust of their communities to help to deliver the tailored messages and get vaccinated themselves, such as Hartford HealthCare’s Senior System Director for Infection Prevention, Dr. Keith Grant, who has been vocal about the safety of the vaccine. The same NAACP and UnidosUS study showed that people of color would trust a messenger of their own racial/ethnic group twice as much as a White leader. 

The study showed the high trust among Blacks and Hispanics in their health care provider at giving clear information for making a decision, indicating doctors and other clinical staff – particular from racial/ethnic heritage – would also be helpful in communicating culturally relevant messages.

Transparency is also an important consideration for building trust, especially from governmental institutions. This is a time where it won’t be possible to over communicate to communities of color and to make extra efforts to leverage or build relationships with the institutions they trust.

With generations of distrust in vaccines and health disparities, the many recent racial injustices still fresh on people’s minds, as well as the Coronavirus, which has kept us all in a prolonged pandemic, there is no time to waste when it comes to ensuring communication about the vaccine is done in a culturally relevant manner.

5 Ways 2021 Will be the Year of Multicultural Marketing

Years from now, we will look back at 2020 as a seminal year marked by events that brought on permanent changes to the advertising and marketing industry.

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we reach and interact with consumers and brought digital-first strategies more to the forefront as a way to adapt to the reality of a virtually connected world.

But 2020 also brought upon a greater focus in the area of racial inequalities and how the advertising and marketing industry needs to be more inclusive and play a leading role in breaking down obstacles and systemic problems that greatly impact people of color.

Many brands and ad agencies, to their credit, implemented changes and became more aware of their role in ensuring equality for all.  However, not all have understood that diversity and inclusion initiatives alone will not help them align and prepare for the “New America,” when Whites will be the minority in the United States.

One fact that escaped major headlines in the midst of so much news with the pandemic, protests and the election was that in 2020, for the first-time people of color were the majority of people under 16, according to the U.S. Census.

In 2021, we will see other major signs of the growing “minority-majority” population and why brands and ad agencies need to go beyond diversity initiatives and embrace multicultural marketing as a business imperative. Here are a few:

  1. Release of the 2020 Census – The 2020 Census will continue to show a continued decrease in the percentage of the White alone segment and an increase in non-White populations – fueled largely by Hispanics. In the 2010 Census, Hispanics comprised 50 percent of the actual population growth in the U.S., and it’s expected to be slightly higher in 2020.
  2. Multicultural Marketing Included in RFPs – One reason multicultural marketing hasn’t grown in prominence is that its importance wasn’t always spelled out in new business requests for proposals (RFPs) – that will begin to change. Brands will expect agencies bidding on new business to also bring forth strategies and experience with diverse population segments and will spell out more specific needs in RFPs.
  3. Increased Collaborations Between Agencies – As a consequence of brands seeking agency partners to help them grow in the multicultural space, general market ad agencies will seek collaborations with smaller multicultural agencies to help them compete and win new business.
  4. Multicultural Agencies Winning More Business – As the “general market” becomes more diverse, more multicultural agencies will rise to agency of record status with brands who understand the importance of aligning themselves to the New America.
  5. Multicultural Agency Mergers and Acquisitions – Large general market agencies will consider M&A strategies when they either start to lose business or budgets to smaller multicultural agencies, or when they start to win business with multicultural agency collaborations as their major differentiator.

While 2020 was a challenging year full of constant change, it taught us to be nimble and to adapt to a new reality where the status quo just won’t do, and things will no longer be the same.   This includes our nation’s population.  Make 2021 the year your brand or agency adapts to not only the “new normal” of a post-pandemic world, but also the “new normal” of a United States where people of color will soon be the majority.