On Thursday, January 7, the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 (BCAC) hosted the townhall, Making It Plain: What Black America Needs to Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines featuring panels and discussions with health professionals and more. During the townhall, important issues such as the disparities amongst the Black community during the pandemic, the new variant of COVID-19 and how the church should address the crisis were discussed.
Dr. Reed Tuckson, a founding member of the BCAC, moderated the townhall and spoke on the current status of the pandemic.
“These are perilous times for our nation and the Black community,” said Tuckson. “We are confronted by the interrelated perils of an unstable government and a national, political agenda that is out of control. But we’re also confronted by the rapidly escalating and changing threats from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Reed briefly addressed the pandemonium that took place on the Capitol on Wednesday but refocused the conversation on the importance of the pandemic.
“Let us not forget that [Jan. 6] was the deadliest day of this pandemic,” said Reed. “Let us remember in our hearts the 3,915 people who died yesterday and the more than 360,000 who have died overall and the 132,000 people who are battling for their lives tonight in our nation’s hospitals.”
He added, “Because the Black Coalition Against COVID is a significant membership of Black health professionals, let us also keep in our hearts the brave men and women, who are providing care on the frontlines and who are cleaning and keeping our hospitals safe so that patients can be treated.”
The townhall in its entirety can be viewed on the BlackDoctor.org Facebook page and on YouTube. Here are some of the highlights from the townhall panels and discussions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institutes of Health
Dr. Reed Tuckson: Help us to understand where we are in this experience of the pandemic and what can we expect over the next few months. What do we have to be prepared for?
Dr. Anthony Fauci: We’re in a very difficult period right now. We are at an incline or inflexion curve of cases that unfortunately is worse than we have seen throughout any period of the outbreak. We now have 350,000 total deaths, we’re averaging over 200, 000 new infections a day and between 2,000 and 3,000 deaths per day. Hospitalizations are really reaching the point of stress with now over 128,000 hospitalizations. The situation could even get worse as we get into the first couple of weeks of January because we’re going to possibly see, I hope not, but quite conceivable, we’ll see a blip, superimposed upon the surge because of the travel and the congregations that took place over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. Unfortunately, African Americans continue to bear a disproportionate burden. Both of the infections compared to the demographic distribution in society as well as for the severity of infections based on hospitalizations per 100,000 as well as deaths per 100,000 related to COVID. It’s a very serious situation for the African American community, which is really the reason why we got to make sure, in two areas: 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 because that will be the final solution—vaccination together with continuation of public health measures.
RT: Many of us have noticed in the news reports that there are variants and mutations, help us to understand what this is all about, what is a variant, is it different from a mutation and how concerned should we be about all of this?
AF: A mutation is a mistake in the coding of the virus as it replicates that leads to a variant, which means a virus that isn’t exactly like the one before the mutation. RNA viruses mutate all the time, that’s part of what they do, most of the time, the mutations are irrelevant, they don’t make any functional difference. However, the mutation that has come out of the United Kingdom, is in fact one that does have a functional significance, it appears to be, and very likely truly is, more contagious than the virus before the mutation. The Brits, who are studying this carefully and we will be studying it carefully and are already; they find that this new variant doesn’t increase the risk of serious disease or death even though it does increase the risk of infection because it transmits much more efficiently nor does it interfere with the ability of the vaccine to protect you. It could change so it’s something you take very seriously. The best way to counter it? Is to maintain the public health measures that we talk about: uniform wearing of masks, avoid close contacts, avoid crowds in congregate settings, wash your hands as often as you possibly can.
Dr. David Carlisle, Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science and Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, National Institutes of Health
Dr. David Carlisle: What makes the COVID-19 virus so dangerous?
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett: The really interesting thing and what makes COVID-19, the virus that causes COVID-19 so dangerous is, firstly, it comes from a family of viruses that are called zoonotic pathogens, so what that means is that, they’re generally dwelling in animals at all times and sometimes, by way of evolution, they can start to transfer to humans and causes human-to-human transmission and so that is what you are seeing now. We’re seeing this really robust, sustained human-to-human transmission of a virus that actually started in an animal reservoir. And as we continue to allow ourselves, around the globe, to be hosts, whether it be the UK strains, or U.S. strains, etc. the virus continues to find more efficient ways to transmit from human-to-human.
DC: What is in a vaccine? I’ve heard from many people, I know there are these concerns out there that is has something to do with nanotechnology, robots and other bad stuff in there.
KC: The two currently available vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use by the FDA are Pfizer’s vaccine candidate and Moderna’s vaccine candidate. Both of which are messenger RNA vaccines and the reason why you likely heard about some nanotechnology is because the really cool thing about their technology is that to deliver the messenger RNA, which is simply just a piece of genetic code from coronavirus, it is only encompassing the spike proteins, the one particular protein, from coronavirus. In order to safely deliver that to the body and target it to the right types of cells so that your body can elicit an immune response, they package it in lipid nano particles, so that’s basically just a very small ball of fat that is wrapped around the messenger RNA. So that essentially is the totality of the vaccine, the other things that people have been sometimes concerned about are, for example, carcinogens like formaldehyde, mercury or human cells—none of these very harmful things are in the vaccine. In fact, no preservatives are in these vaccines at all.
DC: And just to reiterate, no robots, no tracer devices?
KC: No robots or any tracer devices, however, we’re all probably on a computer or cell phone right now so, if you’re worried about being traced then, you’re probably living in the wrong generation, at the wrong time.
Dr. Leon McDougle, National Medical Association and Marc Morial, National Urban League
Dr. Leon McDougle: You are the president and CEO of the National Urban League and I know you have some real concerns about fairness and equity in vaccine dissemination, what are those concerns?
Marc Morial: I believe strongly that the current method of distributing vaccines, which relies heavily on hospitals and chain pharmacies is insufficient to get the job done. What is needed is a much broader distribution effort that includes schools, libraries, community sites, universities—I noticed down in Miami, something I applaud, they’re using the Hard Rock Stadium as a 24-hour site. There has to be more effort to get beyond chain pharmacies and hospitals.
Dr. Felicia Collins, HHS- Office of Minority Health
RT: Why [do] African Americans seem to be suffering so much more from the COVID pandemic? Is there something about us that makes us more susceptible to this pandemic or are there other factors involved?
Dr. Felicia Collins: You are right that Black Americans are suffering as we are more likely to test positive for COVID-19, more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to non-Hispanic Whites. And while COVID indeed has shined a bright light on health disparities in the U.S. unfortunately, these disparities that we’re seeing are really analogous to what existed before COVID-19. So, these differences in health outcomes or health disparities reflect the conditions in which we live and public health term we use for this is called social determents of health. The social determents of health include thing like whether we have access to healthcare and the quality of our healthcare, but there are a whole lot of other things that are included such as our housing, transportation, access to education and job opportunities just to name a few.
Dr. Martha Dawson, National Black Nurses Association and Rev. Calvin Butts, Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Action Plan
Dr. Martha Dawson: How do you see the role of churches responding to this crisis?
Rev. Calvin Butts: The church is still the place of social cohesion for our community. I don’t care what anybody says, it is true and the Black pastor is still the most trusted of all. We have every reason to believe that’s true not only in terms of medicine but also in terms of the political life that sets the atmosphere. We just had one Black pastor elected to the Senate. We had one Black pastor, who is still the major Black, political leader of all time, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. We have Henry McNeal Turner, who was an AME Bishop down in Georgia, who was very powerful and Bill Gray, out of Philadelphia. So, we have, in our possession, the keys to unlock the doors of information to our community.
Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, Morehouse School of Medicine and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Biden-Harris Health Equity Task Force
Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice: What would you say to Black America and what can we expect from this administration going forward?
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: We’re looking at an incoming administration that reflects the diversity of America and I just want to assure everyone that centering and equity is a shared value across the entire administration. Our work is there before us, but we will generate strategies and recommendations really to ensure that there is fairness in the response to recovery moving forward.
The members of the BCAC include HBCUs: Howard University, Meharry Medical College, Morehouse College and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. Also, the National Medical Association, W. Montague Cobb Institute and the National Black Nurses Association, National Urban League, and BlackDoctor.org
For more information, please visit BlackDoctor.org