Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available? Chances are that if you’re Black you’re incredibly anxious about it. According to a recent Pew Survey, more than half of us are taking a pass for now. We remember or read about the Tuskegee experiments or Henrietta Lacks’ tissues taken in the name of science. Aside from all that, it’s hard enough to get us to go to the hospital for regular checkups and dealing with all the other health issues that we face, let alone encourage us to try something new that we don’t know much about and that scares us — a lot. Before having the chance to speak with Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, I’ll admit I was a little nervous myself. He acknowledged our history and even pointed out the irony — the Surgeon General’s office oversaw the notorious Tuskegee experiments. Below are five key points from our conversation that are solid reasons why you should consider taking the vaccine.
1) The Surgeon General is a Praying Man of Faith
SG Adams: I tell people one of the most powerful things you can do for my family and me and our country is to pray. I really do believe that. I think that we’ve gotten away from prayer, especially as the politics have ramped up. I hope we can get back to that sentiment as we approach Christmas and further away from the election.
2) He Doesn’t Believe the Current Politics Are Relevant.
SG Adams: Processes and protections are in place right now to prevent politics from harming the safety and efficacy of these vaccines. We now have data and safety monitoring boards that are independent. The company, not the federal government, decides when these vaccines move forward. It’s an independent group of people whose only job is to make sure that nothing bad happens to the study participants. We have the Office of Human Research Protections that literally was formed after Tuskegee came to light to make sure that something like that could never ever happen again.
3) The Technology is Not New
SG Adams: These are technologies that have been around for over a decade and used for other vaccines that we’re adapting to COVID. So people think we just started in a lab from scratch, and we’re rushing it. No, these technologies have been around. And I also want people to understand that I’ve been working with all of the companies — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson — to make sure we have adequate numbers of Black and brown people enrolled in these trials so that we know that they’re safe. And we worked hard. We went from 4% African Americans in the Moderna trial to well over 10%. And it took about eight, ten weeks of hard work with their study investigators to help them recruit these people into the trials.
4) He’s Got the Trust and Support of Faith Leaders and Community Partners
SG Adams: We’re working with faith leaders like pastor T.D. Jakes. We’re working with Muslim communities and Islamic communities. We’re working with Jewish communities. We are working with influencers like T.I., the rapper. We’ve worked with the NFL. We’re trying to engage with these trusted community partners because some people aren’t going to listen to anyone from the federal government, no matter what, but they’ll listen if their pastor, their rabbi, if their Imam says, “I’ve looked at the data. I’ve talked to the surgeon general, and I feel that these vaccines are safe.”
5) We’ve Got Other Issues We’re Still Facing.
SG Adams: My wife is dealing with cancer. My brother is in a rehab facility. My mother was admitted to the hospital over Thanksgiving for a stroke. So 2020 has been a rough year. I try to help African Americans in particular and younger people out there understand that we need to get COVID under control so that we can start paying attention to other things that are taking lives in numbers that are as great or greater than COVID.
Half a million people die every year from uncontrolled high blood pressure in this country, which is twice the number of people who’ve died from COVID. We can’t afford to lose focus on uncontrolled high blood pressure for the sake of COVID. We lose a woman every 12 hours in this country from pregnancy-related complications, and they’re disproportionately Black and brown women. Two-thirds of those deaths are preventable. Unfortunately, we expect to see those numbers go up because one in four women say they have skipped a prenatal appointment because of COVID. And we know that if you get COVID and you’re pregnant, you’re more likely to end up in a hospital and on a ventilator. It’s incredibly important that we do all we can to get this virus under control, even if you aren’t personally scared of the virus because that COVID bed is a bed that’s not available for your pregnant sister or for your mother who had a stroke, or for your wife who’s got cancer.