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I ka ‘ōlelo no ke ola, I ka ‘ōlelo no ka make.

Words can heal, words can destroy.                                                 

~ Pukui, #1191







Why are Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine?  

We are asked this repeatedly. Ironic, because the medical practitioners and epidemiologists asking this question are themselves taught to assess and evaluate [1, 2] before recommending a certain treatment, prescription, strategy or action.

Why then are communities of color not afforded the same respect for inquiry into the vaccines as are others? [3]

The term vaccine hesitancy indicts the individual [4] for asking questions.  Is it not smart to to seek as much information as possible before making a decision, especially about something as important as what might be injected into your body or that of a family member? That's caution. Care. That's assuring our families are protected.


The Native Hawaiian resource management community has in recent years articulated the ages-old practice of kilo [5]. Farmers, fishers, wayfinders, gatherers, even warriors first gather information by scanning the environment and observing patterns before making decisions to take action.  That's traditional wisdom.

We are all striving to stem the daily reports of infections and deaths. As clinicians, researchers, social workers, public health administrators and communicators, what is gained by blaming our people--or worse, those people--for being hesitant?  We should be asking ourselves, what I can I do to assure my families, my communities have the confidence in the vaccines and vaccination process? 

Am I hearing the questions being asked? Can I provide accurate and timely information? Who is best to deliver the information:  community advocates, faith leaders, doctors and scientists from my own community, Uncle Kalani at the family BBQ, or me? Are my tactics direct, my messages easily understood?

Let us stop accusing those we serve of being hesitant and take responsibility for inspiring confidence.

~ na Kim Ku'ulei Birnie


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1. Rapid Community Assessment Guide, CDC

2. Health Impact Assessment, CDC

3. Strategic Approaches to Communicating About Health Equity and Disparities [VIDEO:  57:20], Society for Health Communications

4. Vaccine Hesitancy is a Scapegoat for Structural Racism, JAMA

5. Kilo as Practiced by Our ‘Āina Stewards‘Āina Stewards, Hawai‘i Land Trust

Photo:  Hawaiian Fisherman @1915.  Commons Wikimedia.

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