Importance: Black and Latinx communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet little work has sought to understand their perspectives.
Objective: To explore the experiences of Black and Latinx communities during the pandemic to better understand their perspectives on COVID-19 mitigation behaviors (eg, mask wearing), testing, and vaccines.
Design, setting, and participants: In this community-engaged qualitative study conducted with 18 community-based organizations and 4 health care organizations between November 19, 2020, and February 5, 2021, in New Jersey counties severely affected by the pandemic, group and individual interviews were used to purposively sample 111 Black and Latinx individuals. A total of 13 group interviews were organized by race/ethnicity and language: 4 English-speaking groups with Black participants (n = 34), 3 Spanish-speaking groups with Latinx participants (n = 24), and 4 English-speaking groups with Black and Latinx participants (n = 36). To understand the views of health care workers from these communities, 2 additional groups (n = 9) were convened and supplemented with individual interviews.
Main outcomes and measures: Description of Black and Latinx participants' experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and their perspectives on mitigation behaviors, testing, and vaccines.
Results: The study included 111 participants (87 women [78.4%]; median age, 43 years [range, 18-93 years]). Participants described the devastating effects of the pandemic on themselves, loved ones, and their community. Their experiences were marked by fear, illness, loss, and separation. These experiences motivated intense information seeking, mitigation behaviors, and testing. Nevertheless, vaccine skepticism was high across all groups. Participants did not trust the vaccine development process and wanted clearer information. Black participants expressed that they did not want to be subjects of experiments.
Conclusions and relevance: The remaining unknowns about new vaccines need to be acknowledged and described for Black and Latinx communities to make informed decisions. Ultimately, scientists and public officials need to work transparently to address unanswered questions and work collaboratively with trusted community leaders and health professionals to foster partnered approaches, rather than focusing on marketing campaigns, to eliminate vaccine skepticism.