There is no doubt in my mind that I will get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes widely available. No doubt whatsoever.
I want to protect myself, so my body will be able to fight off the potentially deadly virus if I ever come in contact with it. I also want to keep others safe from the virus. To help the country establish herd immunity — when enough people are protected from previous infection or vaccination to stop the COVID-19 from spreading.
I am begging that other Black Americans also take one of the vaccines that will soon come to market. Too many of us are skeptical of a vaccine. In fact, we’re less likely than any other racial groups to get one, according to a study by Pew Research Center released last week. Just 42% of African Americans will get a vaccine, compared to 63% of Hispanics, 61% of white adults and 83% of Asian Americans. Overall, 60% percent of Americans will get the vaccine.
I get the side-eye and suspicion directed at the vaccine given the distrust so many of us have when it comes to the medical system. And it’s a trust that is totally justified based on history. Doctors used Henrietta Lacks’ cells to develop medical breakthroughs without her consent. Researchers deliberately didn’t treat men with syphilis during the Tuskegee Syphilis study, leading to many deaths. The man sometimes known as the “father of gynecology” conducted experiments on enslaved Black women without using anesthesia. Even today doctors’ biases contribute to the way African American patients are treated or their symptoms dismissed.
But we have to put all of the suspicion aside because too many of us are dying unnecessarily from COVID-19. African Americans are 1.4 times more likely than whites to contract the coronavirus and nearly 3 times more likely to die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re African American, the likelihood of coronavirus touching your life in some way is pretty high. About 54% of all Americans say they know someone personally who has been hospitalized or died due to the coronavirus, Pew research found. Among Black Americans, it is 71%. I personally know one person who has died and a half dozen who have contracted it, including one who was hospitalized for six weeks. My mother was exposed when a co-worker came to work with symptoms. Luckily, Mom tested negative.
Where the COVID-19 vaccine is concerned, we should trust science. Times are different from the days of Lacks and Tuskegee. There are disclosure and consent regulations designed to protect patients. And the vaccine isn’t targeted at one group. African Americans don’t have to worry about being the guinea pigs, as some have said, because people of all backgrounds and races will take this vaccine — and the medical professionals will be the first. If it’s good enough for the doctors who treat the disease, it should be good enough for the rest of us. The country has had a sound vaccine system in place for years, with most of the country getting a schedule of vaccines beginning as babies. And plenty of us get the flu shot each year. While a handful of people have complications to various vaccines, for the vast majority of the rest of us, it protects us from measles, mumps, polio and other disease that can kill or disable. Once again, trust the science.
Former President Barack Obama and University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski are some of the prominent people who get the importance of African Americans getting the vaccine and have publicly said they will do so in hopes of convincing others. Mr. Hrabowski and his wife Jacqueline joined the Moderna vaccine trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In a Dec. 2 interview with SiriusXM’s “The Joe Madison Show” Mr. Obama said, “I promise you that when it’s been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it.”
“I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science,” he added. “What I don’t trust is getting COVID.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also been making the media rounds trying to reach an African American audience. Coronavirus teams around the country will also need to deploy Black doctors and nurses and groups at the grassroots level, such as churches. In certain Black neighborhoods, deploying a white man in a lab coat won’t be able to sell the message so easily. People with trusted bonds in the community are needed.
If there is anything else that should give us confidence in the vaccine process, it’s that there will be plenty of eyes on it. The concern raised by African Americans have reached the top levels of the country. It will be hard to ignore if anything goes wrong. Now it’s up to all of us to save lives by getting vaccinated.