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The Vaccines: Will Black People be at the end of the Line?
By Tony R. Wafford
Published February 12, 2021

During this Covid-19 watch, it seems that there is a tremendous amount of excitement in the news as vaccines move toward federal approval and all the different states racing and running to create plans for who should get the first doses and how the vaccines will be distributed.  State and federal health officials have all agreed that front-line healthcare workers who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients should be the first vaccinated, which makes all the sense in the world. Then the conversation seems to be vaccinating seniors in nursing home facilities and those patients in long-term care facilities; and that also makes sense to me.

I wonder will the next steps be to go into county, state, and federal detention facilities, juvenile halls, and vaccinate both staff and those in custody?  After all, staff as well as inmates are working and living in high-risk environments where social distancing is all but impossible.

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The American criminal justice system houses almost 2.3 million people in 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian County jails as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. Where are all these people in the line for the vaccine?  I think this is a conversation that should be on the table, given the fact that everyday many of these men, women and young people are returning to Black communities all over this country—or do they matter?

I have a question?  What is the level of importance between a front-line worker and an essential worker?  I guess like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder.  If I need medical help and you are there to help save my life, you are a front-line worker so you clearly you should be in front of the line and I get that.  But it seems to me that not to awfully long ago when America was running scared not knowing what Covid-19 was going do to our schools, jobs, and churches, it seemed that those people that delivered toilet paper became front-line workers.  As we get closer to the delivery of a vaccine, where will those people fit in the line or, are they only important if you are stuck on the toilet?

As you can see there are several decisions and hurdles that must be addressed before we really begin celebrating and distributing the vaccine. If history is an indicator of where we as a country put our priorities, my next question is where will Black, Brown, and poor White Americans be in the line in the distribution of the vaccine?  This isn’t a question of color as much as it is a question of priority?  If Black, Brown, and poor whites are on the top of this list of those infected and dying from Covid-19 it only stands the reason that Black, Brown and poor Whites should be in the front of the line to receive the vaccine, right?  The vaccine should follow greatest need shouldn’t it?

I can hear those naysayers now, Black, Brown, and poor Whites aren’t going to take the vaccines so let’s use our energy to get the vaccine to those that are willing to take it.  There are some Blacks that maybe somewhat hesitant to take the vaccine because of the historical trauma of things like the Tuskegee study, but we can turn that around.  We can turn that around in a couple of ways.  First, we can start to develop culturally competent community-based immunization campaigns and conversations that would be centered around Education, Organization, Mobilization, Confrontation and Reconciliation.

Let’s educate our communities and ourselves not just about Covid-19, and how comorbidities (other health issues we are dealing with i.e., diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and cancers all of which makes us more vulnerable to Covid-19) are killing us.  Share information about the different clinical trials, treatment trials and behavior studies going on all over the country that affect us as a people.  As a people and a community, lets address the importance of participating in the shaping of these studies as well as having a voice in the who, the how and where these studies take place in our community.

Then we must organize our communities by working with all the social, civic and faith institutions, elected officials and the medical community to address the different barriers we all face as a community and a people no matter their social economic status.  Let us build on our unity in midst of our diversity.

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Mobilization means moving together as one to develop and deliver messaging around all research going on in and outside our communities.  This means getting involved in the development of therapeutics (medications) that are so desperately needed to save lives.  God may have made us all equal, but medication does not know that.  A medication that works one way in one person may not always work the same way in a Black person.  We have got to participate in clinical trials and studies so our voices can be heard by both researchers as well as the medication being developed.

As I said I am fully aware of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study; I also know that since Tuskegee we have produced hundreds of brilliant Black doctors, researchers and scientists as well as put into place safeguards to make sure nothing like Tuskegee ever happens again.  Let’s always remember Tuskegee, while at the same time celebrating great Black doctors like Dr. David Satcher, Dr. Regina Benjamin, Dr. Keith L. Black, Dr. Minnie Joycelyn Elders, and the list goes on and on.

This is why I am participating in the “Help Stop Covid LA” clinical trial, a national scientific effort to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.  I am also working on the ACTIV-2 Rise Above Covid treatment trial.  Rise Above Covid is a therapeutic intervention. Which means researchers are testing different medicines to see if they can help adults with COVID-19.  We are looking at adults 18-75 years old who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and have some of the symptoms but are not sick enough to be in the hospital. While you are sitting home why not be get involved in stopping the spread of covid-19 in your home and in your community “i.e., confrontation.

Then we move to confrontation.  We must confront our fears and phobias and be the change in our families, and in our community that we want to see.  Confront Covid-19 head on, while at the same time confronting the medical community by letting them know that we will no longer be observers, paralyzed by the past but a people educated, informed and aware of the possibility of the future.  Black people let us not be paralyzed by propaganda being promoted by a pompous, parasitic, parasite sitting on a presidential pedestal or any other organizations or groups working to undermine our perspective on this pandemic. Yes, we have legitimate issues with the health community, and we can start by addressing the issue of not being able to see ourselves.

It’s a problem when there are only about 2.6% Black doctors in this country, and we have a higher percentage of Black Hockey players in the NHL and only 7.3% of students in medical school this year are Black.  It’s no secret that Black patients tend to have better outcomes when treated by trusted Black doctors and nurses.  I believe if we had more Black faces as well as greater Black visibility promoting Black health, we would have better outcomes in every area of health.  That visibility would not only be seen in ads on television and on billboards and on social media sites.  But that visibility would show itself if more Blacks become Principal Investigators (PI’s) overseeing biological as well as behavior studies that focus on Black people.  I see these as the first steps on the road to reconciliation.  Will these steps eliminate Black justified paranoia of the medical community?  Not completely, but it is a darn good start!

Go to https://www.riseabovecovid.org NOW and get in the fight!

Categories: Health | Op-Ed | Opinion
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