Vaccinations for COVID-19 are underway in Illinois, but not everyone is eager to take the shot. A recent virtual town hall meeting answered questions and tackled concerns for the Black community.
“Making It Plain: What Black America Needs to Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines” was moderated by health experts, faith leaders and several organizations. The event was hosted by the Black Coalition Against COVID-19.
Some may ask why a conversation was needed specifically for the Black community.
COVID-19 hospitalizes Blacks 3.7 times the rate of white non-Hispanics and death rates are 2.8 times greater. This is according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
A recent press release from the Illinois Department of Public Health indicates that the average age of whites dying of COVID-19 in Illinois is 81. For Blacks it’s 72 and 68 for Hispanics.
The CDC recommends that individuals 75 or older receive the vaccine first. But with the disparity of deaths in the Black and Brown communities, the IDPH and Governor J.B. Pritzker have lowered that age to 65.
Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, said one of his main concerns is how the vaccine is distributed. But he also has other apprehensions.
“There is a lot of misinformation and lack of information about the vaccine,” he pointed out. “About the process used to develop the vaccine, about the process generally used to develop medicines and therapies in the United States.”
Morial mentioned that there are questions about whether the creation of the vaccine was rushed. He also suggested that some Black people aren’t trusting it because of the past actions of the United States government. Morial called this the “ghost of Tuskegee.”
The Tuskegee Experiment was a syphilis study where Black men were told they were being treated for the disease but instead they were given placebos. Many of the men died from the disease or suffered other complications.
Some members of the Black community are questioning what’s in the vaccine.
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is a viral immunologist at the National Institutes of Health. She was a key player in the development of the vaccine. Corbett advises that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both “messenger RNA” vaccines.
She explained that these are made up of lipid nanoparticles, which is a ball of fat wrapped around the messenger RNA.
Corbett said there are no carcinogens or other devices in the vaccine.
“There are no tracer devices. There are no microchips or anything of that nature that are being delivered with this vaccine,” she explained.
Corbett addressed the worry that some have about how quickly the virus was developed. She stated that the public is only seeing the last 10 or 11 months of work.
“But the preclinical science that drove this vaccine development extends even beyond my tenure at the National Institutes of Health, even up to 10 to 15 years starting in the days of the SARS coronavirus,” Corbett emphasized.
Dr. Helene Gayle is the CEO of The Chicago Community Trust. She pointed out that it is important to focus on how things are communicated to the Black community -- and by whom.
“How are we getting the message out, making sure that we have messages that are relevant to the diverse communities?” she asked. “But also, that the messengers that are delivering the message are messengers that people trust.”
Morial expressed that the right people to give recommendations are Black physicians and other Black professionals who are knowledgeable about the vaccine process.
Dr. Anthony Fauci also joined the forum. He answered a question about the mutation of the virus and confirmed that the vaccine is still effective against it. He reiterated that Blacks continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus and that’s why two things need to take place.
“One in adherence to the public health measures that we double down -- and two, when the vaccines become available to the particular people in the different subgroups that you make sure you get vaccinated.”
Fauci said there is light at the end of the tunnel. And as more people get vaccinated, he said, we’ll get closer to going back to normal. But until then, he explained, people will still need to wear masks, keep social distancing and wash their hands.
The entire conversation can be viewed at the BlackDoctor.org Facebook page.
- Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.