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April 6, 2021

Lesson Plan: Race and vaccine hesitancy in the U.S.

For a google doc version of this lesson plan, click here.


As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to more Americans, there has been widespread media attention given to the reluctance of some Black Americans to take the vaccine. This lesson seeks to examine the reasons for that distrust and reluctance, but also to examine whether or not Black residents are opposed to taking the vaccine when compared to other groups in the country. 

Essential question: How has the U.S. health care system’s treatment of Black citizens led to distrust and a lack of confidence? 

Estimated time: One or two 50-minute class periods

Grades: 9-12

Warm up activity:

Watch this PBS NewsHour video on the attempt to build trust about the COVID vaccine in Black communities (link with transcript) and answer the following questions:

  1. What do you think is the origin of the lack of trust described in this video? 
  2. What was the Tuskegee Experiment? 
  3. What happened to Henrietta Lacks? 
  4. According to Dr. Taylor, how was the COVID-19 vaccine developed so quickly? 
  5. How does Dr. McDougle hope to build trust with skeptical Black Americans? 
  6. What steps  is the National Medical Association taking to build trust with Black Americans? 

Main activity:


Have students conduct research on one of the following incidents of harm done by the U.S. health care system to Black Americans. Students will then share out in groups and record the responses of their group members who researched other topics.

Topics to choose from: 

  1. Tuskegee Experiment 
  2. Henrietta Lacks 
  3. Black Women Mortality in Pregnancy 
  4. COVID-19 Impact on Black Americans

Assign each student one of the topics. Students should be given 15-20 minutes to research their topic and then share out among their group and fill in the rest of the handout.

After students have shared out, discuss the following questions as a class:

  1. Based upon your research, how has structural inequality played a role in how some Black Americans perceive the American health care system? 
  2. What can be done to change this perception? 

Extension activity

Now that the vaccine is becoming more readily available, recent polls have indicated that Black Americans are much more likely to take the vaccine than previously thought, but access to the vaccine compared to their white counterparts is lagging. Students will conduct research on which groups currently are reluctant to take the vaccine and what can be done about this as well as how Black Americans continue to struggle to get vaccinated. 

  1. Have students look at Pew Research Center studies from September, December and March on the likeliness of Americans from different groups to take the vaccine. How has this changed over time? What groups are most likely to take the vaccine in each poll ? Least likely? What do you think has contributed to the changes?
  2. Have students research how African American communities are being left behind in the race to vaccinate Americans. They can research how various groups like the Black  Doctors COVID-19 Consortium are aiming to ensure that Black residents are vaccinated. 



College, Career and Civic Life (C3)

D2.His.16.6-8. Organize applicable evidence into a coherent argument about the past.

D2.His.16.9-12. Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.

Ricky House is a U.S. history educator at an independent school in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, where he served as an Urban Fellow and Master of Arts in Teaching candidate. He has over eight years of teaching experience in school systems in Arlington, Virginia, Anne Arundel County Maryland and Washington, D.C. He has appeared on PBS NewsHour and has written several columns for NewsHour as well.

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