Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in communities of color
Long has mistrust of the medical community lingered among our Black and Brown communities. And now with the COVID-19 vaccine, a resurgence of hesitancy is rearing its ugly head. As a Black physician, I’d like to address head-on some of the concerns I’ve been hearing from some of my patients and others.
Concern #1: The COVID-19 vaccine is another opportunity to push communities of color to the front of the line and test us as guinea pigs (like with the Tuskegee experiments) for a drug whose long-term effects are unknown. Despite our history, we are being asked to trust a system that has purposefully discriminated against us.
My response: We cannot forget the history, but we must differentiate history from present facts. The vaccine and the vaccination program are two simple steps to level this aspect of health inequity.
The current vaccines are new, but we are not being used as guinea pigs, and there is data to show that they are effective. I, for one, have already received both my vaccines, and I am proud to have done so. I have family members who have also received theirs, including my mother and sister, who is in health care.
The long-term effects of anything new is unknown, but based on the available data, it is safe. The risk of COVID-19, especially in the communities of color, is astounding. Not only can you die, but other prolonged symptoms, such as problems with their breathing and fatigue, continue to be reported by some of my patients.
Concern #2: I haven’t trusted the government or health care for a long time. The injustice isn’t just in the past: Medical bias is very much still a problem today.
My response: That is understandable. We must continue to have the uncomfortable conversations and bring the incidents to light as they happen. If you feel that you were treated inappropriately in a health care setting, you can ask for a nurse manager (if in the hospital) or patient representative. Also document the incident and write a letter to the hospital chief medical officer and CEO. That’s how change occurs.
Concern #3: The vaccine research and trials were deployed too fast. “Fast and free – just doesn’t equate”. How can I trust this isn’t a way to depopulate minorities?
My response: Fast, yes, but with all safeguards. There are numerous studies published.
Vaccines are free, because we have already paid for them with our taxes, in the form of grants provided to the companies to incentivize the development.
The fact that more Caucasian people than people of color have taken the vaccine shows that the vaccine is not a way to depopulate minorities. All my friends who are doctors (Black, White, Indian) have received the vaccine. I have proudly received it, and so has my wife.
Concern #4: It doesn’t seem safe for us. I’ve heard the vaccine causes infertility in Black women and Bell’s Palsy, and that it’s going to change our DNA.
My response: There is no data to support that. There are women who have had the vaccine and gone on to be pregnant. I am not aware of any correlation with Bell’s Palsy. There are also new studies looking at the effects on children.
The vaccine does not incorporate itself into the host DNA. It uses the body’s system to think that it is infected, and the body responds as if there is an infection and mounts antibodies. This then protects you from future exposure and is a manner of decreased disease transmission.
In conclusion, if you are not a person with genetically darker melanin, you may not fully understand these concerns, but you can empathize, and you can make a difference. If you see something immoral happening, use your voice and say something. Together, I’m confident we can rebuild the trust that was broken and conquer COVID-19.
Dr. Brian Temple is an infectious disease physician at Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh, Wis.