TUSKEGEE, Ala. — By the time vaccines for the coronavirus were introduced late last year, the pandemic had taken two of Lucenia Williams Dunn’s close friends. Still, Ms. Dunn, the former mayor of Tuskegee, contemplated for months whether to be inoculated.
It was a complicated consideration, framed by the government’s botched response to the pandemic, its disproportionate toll on Black communities and an infamous 40-year government experiment for which her hometown is often associated.
“I thought about the vaccine most every day,” said Ms. Dunn, 78, who finally walked into a pharmacy this summer and rolled up her sleeve for a shot, convinced after weighing with her family and doctor the possible consequences of remaining unvaccinated.
“What people need to understand is some of the hesitancy is rooted in a horrible history, and for some, it’s truly a process of asking the right questions to get to a place of getting the vaccine.”
In the first months after the vaccine rollout, Black Americans were far less likely than white Americans to be vaccinated. In addition to the difficulty of obtaining shots in their communities, their hesitancy was fueled by a powerful combination of general mistrust of the government and medical institutions, and misinformation over the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
But a wave of pro-vaccine campaigns and a surge of virus hospitalizations and deaths this summer, mostly among the unvaccinated and fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, have narrowed the gap, experts say. So, too, have the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of a vaccine and new employer mandates. A steadfast resistance to vaccines in some white communities may also have contributed to the lessening disparity.
While gaps persist in some regions, by late September, according to the most recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a roughly equal share of Black, white and Hispanic adult populations — 70 percent of Black adults, 71 percent of white adults and 73 percent of Hispanic adults — had received at least one vaccine dose. A Pew study in late August revealed similar patterns. Federal data shows a larger racial gap, but that data is missing demographic information for many vaccine recipients.
Since May, when vaccines were widely available to a majority of adults across the country, monthly surveys by Kaiser have shown steady improvement in vaccination rates among Black Americans.
How the racial gap was narrowed — after months of disappointing turnout and limited access — is a testament to decisions made in many states to send familiar faces to knock on doors and dispel myths about the vaccines’ effectiveness, provide internet access to make appointments and offer transportation to vaccine sites.
In North Carolina, which requires vaccine providers to collect race and ethnicity data, hospital systems and community groups conducted door-to-door canvassing and hosted pop-up clinics at a theme park, a bus station and churches. Over the summer, the African American share of the vaccinated population began to more closely mirror the African American share of the general population.
In Mississippi, which has one…