As the nation prepares for yet another wave of COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers continue to discuss the possible vaccine and methods of dispersion. However, with the majority of cases still within the Black and Brown communities, the National Urban League set up a press call with Black medical experts to discuss what this will look like for the population.
Following the National Urban League State of Black America report, they teamed up with the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 and chose several HBCU leaders including Meharry Medical College, Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine and Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, along with the National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association and BlackDoctor.org to build find ways to further reach and educate the Black community on upcoming changes and build confidence around the vaccine both during and after its developmental process. The press call featured voices from National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial, Black Coalition Against COVID founder Dr. Reed Tuckson, National Medical Association President Dr. Leon McDougle, National Black Nurses Association President Dr. Martha Dawson, Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, Morehouse School of Medicine President Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice.
“The power and reach of Black journalists is at a historic high watermark. The conversation we initiate here today, which is the first of its kind is intended to be an ongoing dialogue, to spotlight health issues of concern to the Black community, not just throughout the pandemic but beyond,” Morial stated during his opening speech. With moderation by Dr. Tuckson, the panelist began the hour-long press call pointing out the two biggest issues, distrust and misinformation. His first topic, the importance of opportunities and gatherings such as the one presented by the National Urban League and Black Coalition Against COVID-19.
“We served the Black community. We advocate for the Black community and quite frankly, we are stronger together,” Dr. McDougle began. With the statistics still not in favor of Black communities, Dr. Frederick spoke to the importance of understanding the data to further predict where the nation is headed. “We must recognize that this represents the health care disparities that have existed for some time in our country. The social determinants of health put African Americans at risk. The frontline jobs that they have put them at risk in a virus that is as contagious as this and then the comorbidities that they may have, that they’re more likely to have than the rest of the population also put them at risk,” he stated. With a positive spirit, he adds that we must not be in despair, “We have Black medical professionals and other colleagues who are interested in protecting our communities. We all must come together in this moment, to ensure that we bring hope, that anticipation of tomorrow is embedded within all of us as we take our oath’s to provide care to our community.”
During the early stages of the pandemic, many hospitals sought to close departments to make room for COVID patients, with nurses and doctors working around the clock to provide the best care, although nothing seemed ideal. Today, with numbers back on the rise, Dr. Dawson speaks to the conditions frontline workers are facing including work conditions, resources, and more. “I think that is the most disheartening part of this is the nurses are going in there working not only long shifts but they’re doing this three days in a row. They’re given maybe two days off and they’re right back into the trenches again,” she said. She continues to tell that in a previous conversation with an active nurse, that hospital personnel are already in the decision making process of figuring out who will and will not get ventilators based on pre-existing conditions and the likelihood of their survival. She also touches on the fact that many people to contract the virus have been those of working class individuals, mostly, transportation, store clerks and restaurant workers. “As we want the economy to open up, we cannot say give your life for the economy. We need to be trying to give them life and then we can support the economy.”
The conversation also discussed the holiday season and advised those who can, to stay safe within their homes. “In order for us to see many more Thanksgivings with the entire family there, that is a necessary step we must take,” Dr. Frederick stated.
On the vaccine however, as it’s been reported Pfizer is in the process of creating what could be the cure for COVID-19. Dr. Frederick makes it clear that while testing is still going on and there are still many unknown factors, we must also consider that not every trial patient has been exposed to the virus and so to be careful when dissecting the data. He shares that the plans being made regarding the vaccine are something to get behind as a community, while also acknowledging the topic of mistrust. “The mistrust that exists in our country today is a mistrust of institutions, of our government institutions, law enforcement, etc. and so it spreads across our community. What we must do is to make sure that we as Black health professionals are at the front of bringing the story to our community and making sure that they can feel confident when we do say a vaccine is available, and it can be protective and safe, that they can then receive it.”
With every panelist in agreement with Dr. Fredericks’ words, Dr. Tuckson took time to acknowledge the Black medical professionals and scientists who are behind the COVID vaccine, a situation unlike any other vaccines in the past. With this fact, they hope to build trust within the community as Dr. Dawson stated, “That’s why you need diversity in the clinical trial so that during this phase, you can see those unanticipated side effects, and then have a plan of action for them.”
Before closing, they also announced that the Black Coalition Against COVID will be starting a national dialogue regarding COVID-19 through the launch of the Love Letter to Black America, from America’s Black Doctors and Nurses. To learn more about the initiative which will also include the panelists, visit https://blackcoalitionagainstcovid.org/loveletter.