I have been home and mostly in the house for the last 10 months and I am not happy about it. I am used to being on an airplane every 10-14 days flying around the country and sometimes around the world. I was supposed to spend April and May 2020 in the San Francisco Bay area. I was supposed to attend my twin grandchildren’s high school graduation in the Sacramento area. I was supposed to attend my sorority’s international convention in my hometown of Philadelphia, and I was supposed to head to Johannesburg, South Africa, to receive an honorary degree in October. I didn’t get to do any of those things, and I imagine you, too, have a laundry list of things you were supposed to do, and we were all prevented from doing them for the very same reason —COVID-19 or the Coronavirus.
This virus has been devastating for this country and the entire world. At this writing, more than 400,000 people in the US have succumbed to this disease and more than 25 million have been infected by it. Many businesses have gone under. Millions of people have been laid off, furloughed, or fired. More than 800,000 women have left the workforce. Only 38 percent of public school students have been able to participate in face-to-face schooling. Most reasonable people wear masks in public and practice physical distancing which means we don’t congregate in regular activities like eating out in restaurants, attending church, going to parties, celebrating major life events like weddings, graduations, or funerals. I, along with most of the folks I know, conduct business, family, and friend visits via electronic platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.
Now we have learned that two of the vaccines that were fast-tracked during the Trump Administration are ready to go with somewhere between 90 and 95 percent effectiveness. Both vaccines require two dosages administered about 3-4 weeks apart. However, we are learning that Black people are less likely to say they will get the vaccine. The most recent statistics indicate that 80 percent of Asian Americans say they will get the vaccine. Sixty percent of Whites and Latinx people say they will get it, but less than half — 40% of Black folks — have said they would get the vaccine. The reasons for Black people’s reluctance are understandable. They are grounded in a history of mistreatment and mistrust.
As a researcher, I have to go through Human Subjects Certification periodically at the university. These certifications are in place based on the abuse of people by researchers and African Americans have been frequent victims of unethical and cruel research protocols. The major study we reference is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Briefly, this study took place in Tuskegee, Alabama, and looked at what happened to Black men who were left with untreated syphilis, even when a cure for the disease became available in the midst of the study. Many of these men and their families were unaware that they even had the disease. The study allowed the disease to ravish the bodies and lives of these families.
The study went on for 40 years, from 1932 to 1972, and the families devastated by the disease did not receive a formal apology until the Bill Clinton Administration. Additionally, the story of Henrietta Lacks reinforces Black America’s mistrust of the medical community. Henrietta’s ovarian cancer was misdiagnosed and mistreated. She became a genetic guinea pig and almost every biological sciences researcher actually uses what are known as HeLa (Henrietta Lacks) cells to understand developments in their field. Those two cases are high-profile examples of things that have occurred to Black people in their relationship with the medical community. However, the mistrust also stems from personal encounters with the medical community.
The research suggests that physicians do not believe Black people experience pain to the same degree Whites do. Our medical concerns are regularly discounted and brushed aside. Health care workers are rude and dismissive of Black health concerns. We are treated (even by the previous Surgeon General) as if our health concerns are all a result of poor lifestyle choices. We have always understood that the medical community regards Black life as cheap. This is why we have to take to the street and yell, “Black Lives Matter!”
These series of bad experiences notwithstanding, Black people, we have to get this vaccine. We are dying at a greater rate than Whites from this disease. We are working jobs that place us at greater risk of contracting the disease. We are front line workers in hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, public transit, pharmacy clerks and other service industry jobs. We are more likely to live in multigenerational families and we are more likely to live in densely packed, multi-family residences. In other words, we are “ground zero” for contracting Coronavirus.
Folks, I know we are suspicious of anything the US government sponsors, but this time we have to be willing to give this a chance. I am reminded of 2Kings 7:4 which tells the story of four men with leprosy who sat outside the city gates. In their dilemma, they said, “We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.” The Bible scholars among the readers know they did not have to surrender because God caused confusion among the Aramean army and they fled. The lepers came into an empty camp filled with food, supplies, and treasures which they took to the city and shared with the people.
If you are afraid the vaccine will harm you, I can assure you catching the virus will harm you AND you may spread it in ways that harm a family member, friend, and/or neighbor. Getting the vaccine may cause an adverse effect, but the probability of that happening is quite low. All I can say is we have to protect ourselves and our community and as my fam from West Philly says before I hang up from our phone calls, “Don’t let da ‘rona get on ya!”
Get your vaccine, fam!