COVID has waged a war.
As a Black physician, this has been a difficult year for me. I’ve witnessed COVID amass a body count well over half a million, with an unfair number of those being Black people. This virus has uprooted our social lives, spoiled our cherished moments, and it has taken too many of our loved ones.
As a physician, I’ve read the data. Black/African Americans are roughly two times more likely to die from COVID-19 when compared to White Americans. But even more meaningful, I’ve seen this statistic play out repeatedly at my own hospital —as an ever-present reminder of the health inequities rooted in structural racism. This is the familiar scene: a Black grandmother lays in her hospital room alone, and now feels as if she is lifting the weight of her body with every breath [while it was so effortless last week]. Her family visits her one person at-a-time, wearing face masks that only partially hide the tears and sobs. Each person standing at the bedside in disbelief of how the virus had quietly stolen the strength from the matriarch of their family.
As a Black man—a son, grandson, and nephew—I’ve felt the heavy toll of COVID move beyond my professional life. It has invaded my personal life. As if in planned order, my family members were infected with COVID, and I had no means beyond prayer to help them. Inevitably, I’d think about the many hospital patients I’d lost to the pandemic. I braced myself for the possibility of losing a family member. My grandfather ultimately passed from a COVID infection. He was a Black man, a devout Southern Baptist, and a military veteran from Alabama. He was a model of impeccable work ethic, and in the end, a victim of this preventable infection. I sometimes wonder if he would have met this same fate if he were White. And now I wonder if he would have met this same fate if he had been vaccinated.
The COVID vaccine is our best chance to weaponize our own immune systems, so that each of us can fight off COVID. And so that, together, we can keep the infection out of our homes, schools, churches, businesses, and stores. I am well aware of how the actions of the medical field against the Black community have led and continue to lead to distrust. I am also painfully aware of the present-day realities of systemic racism. But right now we are the ones dying. Having been on the frontlines against this virus, I know firsthand about the devastation that COVID is currently inflicting on my Black patients and on my community. The COVID vaccine is one of the safest vaccines ever made and it is effective. This vaccine can stop the chaos and loss of human life, bring our community some much-needed reprieve, and move us towards normalcy. I am confident that if the vaccine was available before my grandpa contracted COVID, he would still be here with us today. My hope is that once we’re all vaccinated, COVID will no longer take our loved ones. We’ll be able to spend time together without fear, we’ll appreciate that we’ve overcome a hard fight, and we will look forward a better future ahead. If we all get the vaccine now we can keep more of our parents and grandparents alive and spare many the pain that I and many of you have gone through.