COVID-19 Vaccine and the African American Community
Get trustworthy info about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine from Alvin Powell, MD, Cone Health Chief of Health Equity & Chief Medical Officer at Annie Penn Hospital, as he discusses the COVID-19 vaccine and the African American community in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.
How has COVID-19 impacted the African American community?
“Happy Black History Month to you! And I will just tell you that for people of color in general, COVID-19 is more common, more severe and more deadly. For African Americans specifically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans compared to white individuals are 1.7 times more likely to have a COVID infection. They are 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalize and therefore have much more severe infection, which could require ventilator care, tracheostomy or dialysis or heart disease or heart complications associated with the infection. And African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19. So it's a significant illness with significant impact in the African American community.”
What would you say to members of the African American community who are hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
“I would say we recognize that there are concerns about getting this vaccine and other vaccines. This vaccine in particular, there's a lot of newness about it, so lots of different people have concerns about taking this vaccine. But curiosity should dictate that we ask questions about the vaccines. So being curious about it and asking questions - that's okay and that may create some hesitancy. But once we get that information, that hesitancy should go away.”
“Now there have been millions of vaccines deployed into people's arms and it's not so new anymore. But we also know that there are concerns about the fact that this vaccine was produced very rapidly. There are concerns about that as well. And I will tell you that listening to scientists and reading as much as I can about this vaccine, what I do know is that no steps were skipped. Nothing was missed with respect to safety and because we have a pandemic, all hands were on deck, and instead of going from step one to two to three to four, step one was started then step two immediately - these steps were taking place concurrently, and so the vaccine was created much more rapidly with the same rigor and safety as all other prior vaccines.”
“From a historical perspective, African Americans have a concern because of the history of systemic, institutional and structural racism in America, and this is important because trust is big in health care, and there has not always been trust from the health care perspective in the African American community. The Tuskegee study - we know about that. We've heard a lot about that and people are talking about that a lot with respective concerns about safety with this vaccine.”
Who do you recommend people with questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine talk to?
“Talk to someone they trust. Talk to their pastor, talk to their doctor in particular if you trust your doctor. Talk to people who've already taken the vaccine, and talk to them and ask them why they took the vaccine and how they feel about that vaccine right now. All of those things are important in convincing people and allowing them to begin to gain trust in the science that was done in creating this vaccine in a safe fashion.”
Have you received the COVID-19 vaccine? Did you have questions or concerns about it?
“I will tell you that months ago, I had some hesitation months ago when many other people had curiosity and concerns about this vaccine. But once I began to read more about the vaccine and understand the science behind it, I had no problems with getting the vaccine. I wanted the vaccine as soon as I could get it and I've received two doses of vaccine already. I will tell you that after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, my COVID anxiety that we all experience has dropped significantly. And so I feel safer. I'm not 100% safe, but I feel a whole lot safer because I've received the vaccine.”
“And I'll just share on a personal note that I have three adult children. My wife and I have three adult children who are all health care workers who've also received the vaccine. And they went and received the vaccine as well. So I got the vaccine because I want to keep my family safe, my friends safe, my colleagues safe. I want the pandemic to end and I want to model this for other people as well.”
Are there plans to take the vaccine into local communities to make it more accessible?
“We know that too few African Americans are getting the COVID-19 vaccine. There's a disparity in the disease process with the higher instance of COVID-19 affecting African Americans, making them sick and actually they're dying as a result of this, and not enough African Americans are getting the vaccine. So, in fact, Cone Health is being aggressive and intentional about reaching out to communities of color, targeting churches and other community organizations, going out and deploying mobile vaccine clinics in these communities to try to get the vaccine in arms to mitigate this disease process.”
Any final thoughts regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and the African American community that you want to share?
“What I want to share is that I believe the vaccine is safe. I know it's effective and I think that for us to reduce the incidents of death and illness in the African American community from COVID-19, we need to roll up our sleeves and we need to get the vaccine. It works so much better when more people get the vaccine and there are a lot of people who need to get shots in arms and we need to roll up our sleeves and go ahead and reach out and grab somebody else and encourage someone else to get the vaccine, because that's the only way we're going to impact the death and destruction that's happening in the African American community right now.”