Dr. Anthony Fauci and other national health leaders have said that African Americans need to take the COVID-19 vaccine to protect their health. What Fauci and others have not stated is that if African Americans don’t take the vaccine, the nation as whole will never get to herd immunity.
The concept of herd immunity, also referred to as community immunity, is fairly simple. When a significant proportion of the population, or the herd, becomes immune from the virus, the entire population will have some acceptable degree of protection. Immunity can occur through natural immunity from personal infection and recovery, or through vaccination. Once a population reaches herd immunity, the likelihood of person-to-person spread becomes very low.
The big lie is one of omission. Yes, it is true that African Americans will benefit from the COVID vaccine, but the full truth is that the country needs African Americans and other population subgroups with lower reported COVID-19 vaccine acceptability rates to take the vaccine. Without increased vaccine acceptability, we stand little to no chance of communitywide protection.
About 70% of people in the U.S. need to take the vaccine for the population to reach herd immunity. Whites make up about 60% of the U.S. population. So, if every white person got the vaccine, the U.S. would still fall short of herd immunity. A recent study suggested that 68% of white people would be willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine. If these estimates hold up, that would get us to 42%.
Latinos make up just over 18% percent of the population. A study suggests that 32% percent of Latinos could reject a COVID vaccine. Add the 40% to 50% rejection rates among other population subgroups and herd immunity becomes mathematically impossible.
Further exacerbating the problem is that mass vaccination alone won’t achieve herd immunity, as the effect of COVID vaccines on preventing virus transmission remains unclear. Ongoing preventive measures will likely still be needed to stop community spread. As the resistance to facts and science continues to grow, the need for credible information dissemination and trust-building related to vaccines becomes more important.
My research offers some possible explanations for lower vaccination rates among Blacks. Historical wrongs, like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, which ended in 1972, have played a major role in contributing to Black mistrust of the health care system. In another case, the “immortal” cells of Henrietta Lacks were shared without her consent and have been used in medical research for more than 70 years. The most recent application includes COVID vaccine research, yet her family has received no financial benefit.
African Americans also disproportionately experience unequal treatment in the modern-day health care system. These experiences of bias and discrimination fuel the problem of vaccine hesitancy and mistrust. Lower prioritization for hospital admissions and lifesaving care for COVID-19-related illness among African Americans was reported in Massachusetts in April 2020. Massachusetts subsequently changed its guidelines, yet across the U.S. there is a lack of data and transparent reporting on this phenomenon.
The current messaging of vaccine importance may seem tone-deaf to those in a community who wonder why their health is so important now, at the vaccine stage. Black health didn’t appear to be a priority during the pandemic’s first wave, when race disparities in COVID emerged.
Questioning the scientific process
Perhaps even Operation Warp Speed has had the unintended consequence of decreasing vaccine acceptance in the African American community. Some ask why wasn’t such speed applied to vaccine development for HIV, which still has no FDA-approved vaccine? As of 2018, AIDS-related illness has killed an estimated 35 million people globally. It continues to disproportionately affect people of color and other socially vulnerable populations.
If African Americans were honored and acknowledged in these COVID vaccine conversations and told “we need you” instead of “you need us,” perhaps more Blacks would trust the vaccine. I encourage our nation’s leaders to consider a radical shift in their approach. They must do more than pointing to the few Black scientists involved in COVID vaccine development, or making a spectacle of prominent African Americans receiving the vaccine.
These acts alone will likely be insufficient to garner the trust needed to increase vaccine acceptance. Instead, I believe our leaders should adopt the core values of equity and reconciliation. I’d argue that truth-telling will need to be at the forefront of this new narrative.
There are also multiple leverage points along the supply and distribution chains, as well as in vaccine administration, that could increase diversity, equity and inclusion. I’d recommend giving minority- and women-owned businesses fair, mandated access to contracts to get the vaccine to communities. This includes procurement and purchasing contracts for freezers needed to store the vaccine.
Minority health care workers should be equitably called back to work to support vaccine administration. These issues, not publicly discussed, could be transformative for building trust and increasing vaccine acceptance.
Without a radical shift in the conversation of true COVID equity, African Americans and many others who could benefit from the vaccine will instead get sick. Some will die. The rest will remain marginalized by a system and a society that hasn’t equally valued, protected, or prioritized their lives. I believe it’s time to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
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.
Well-meaning advice for people freaking out about current events often includes encouragement to be patient, stay calm and keep the faith… but how on Earth are you supposed to do that amid the insanity of 2020?
While it is tempting to stay glued to your devices during this time, the never-ending doomscrolling and screen-refreshing becomes overwhelming and keeps you in a state of tension and constant vigilance. The excessive consumption of news and social media predicts poorer long-term mental health during times of crisis.
Plan some breaks where you can engage in other activities that take your mind off politics and the uncertainties we face, and allow things to feel a little more normal for a while.
2. Uncertainty doesn’t equal catastrophe
It’s hard not to know things – outcomes of elections, for instance. But not knowing shouldn’t mean that you assume the worst-case scenario has occurred. When you’re anxious (as many in the U.S. are right now), you tend to assign threatening meanings to ambiguous situations, but this tendency is neither accurate nor helpful. Jumping to catastrophic conclusions is like setting off a series of false alarms that keep you on edge and exaggerate your sense of threat.
3. Don’t retreat into bed
The feeling of deep disappointment about election results you don’t like, or apprehension about upcoming results, can trigger a desire to withdraw and hole up. While that response is natural, it tends to be counterproductive. Staying engaged in activities that give you a sense of accomplishment, pleasure or meaning can make managing this time far less painful.
4. Remember it’s happened before
While in many ways it is true that 2020 is unique and unprecedented, it’s also the case that human beings tend to be remarkably resilient, even in the face of tremendous stress and trauma. This difficult time will not last forever. Things won’t magically all get better, but time will move forward, this situation will change and you will keep putting one foot in front of the other.
5. Don’t go through this time alone
While the pandemic means you need to remain physically distant from others, this should not mean staying socially or emotionally distant. When people experience acute stress, they cope much better if they have social support.
So reach out and stay connected – whether that means texting about the latest vote count with a friend or purposefully taking a break from ruminating on current events (it’s a great chance to deeply discuss how you each feel about the new season of “The Mandalorian”).
6. Stay regular
No, I am not referring to your bowels – maintain a regular and healthy eating, sleep and exercise pattern. While recommendations for self-care may seem unimportant, attending to those basic bodily needs can go a long way toward keeping your resources sufficiently replenished so you can meet the high demands of this time. There is increasing evidence that poor sleep is closely connected to many mental and emotional health difficulties.
So stop refreshing your feed in the wee hours and try to sleep.
Moreover, it provides a sense of control. There’s so much during this time that you cannot control – there is no magic wand that speeds up vote counting in those critical contested races or makes senate run-offs in January come sooner. But taking action to improve things now for the people around you both helps others and reminds you that you can make a difference in meaningful ways.
So, bake cookies to drop off on the doorstep of the friend who is quarantined. Offer to take an item off a work colleague’s overwhelming to-do list. If you’re in a position to help, make a donation to a cause you care about. It’s a win-win.
8. Take a breath
Each person is different in what helps them to relax or feel more centered. Focusing on and slowing down your breathing, for instance, can help keep you grounded in the present moment and reduce the spiral of upsetting thoughts about what might come next.
The combination of “COVID-19 brain” plus “election brain” (along with the pain and losses of the last eight months) means few of us will be at our best right now.
There’s a lot of room between performing at 100% of your usual capacity and climbing into bed and hiding under the covers for days on end. Personally, I’m trying to average 80%. People managing greater homeschooling, economic, health, discrimination and other challenges at this time than I am may shoot for a lower percentage.
No one is making it through this time unscathed, so kindness to ourselves and others is desperately needed.
HIV primarily affects white gay men. You can contract HIV by getting tested for the virus that causes AIDS. Active church members aren’t at risk for HIV.
When NAACP researchers spent a year talking with black faith leaders in 11 cities, they found myths like these continue to circulate among their pews and pulpits. Those findings led the nation’s oldest civil rights organization to mount a campaign calling on black churches to speak out about the disease that disproportionately affects African-Americans.
The pastoral brief, sprinkled with Bible verses, includes a “modern-day parable’’ of a minister who tried to “pray the gay” out of a heterosexual man after he received his HIV diagnosis. It later quotes a Houston minister who feared being in the same room with relatives with HIV/AIDS.
The NAACP recommends partnering with health organizations on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. The group compares the church’s need to address HIV to Jesus’ ministry healing the sick and advocating for the oppressed.
“As we make efforts to address the HIV crisis, the Black Church should not be a place where people experience HIV stigma and discrimination, but rather a place of healing, support, and acceptance,” the brief says.
The 66-page manual asks churches to dispel HIV myths and spread the truth. For instance, most black women get HIV through heterosexual sex, and there is no risk for transmission of HIV through testing.
“Regardless of our church activity or engagement, as long as we are having unprotected sex or sharing needles in our communities, we are at risk for contracting HIV,” the manual notes.
The NAACP urges churches to be a “safe space” for HIV prevention and treatment, even if they have to start small: “We understand that incorporating HIV activism into a spiritual setting may be perceived as a difficult process, but it is possible to begin with small steps even in the most conservative environments.”
Webinar: Taking Action This National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Black clergy leaders are joining forces with the United Way of New York City for a new initiative designed to combat the coronavirus’ outsized toll on African Americans through ramped-up testing, contact tracing and treatment management.
Details of the new effort rests on harnessing the on-the-ground influence of church leaders to circulate resources that can better equip Black Americans in safeguarding against and treating the virus. Its rollout will begin in five major cities with initial seven-figure funding, focusing on expanded testing and public health education, with a goal of further expansion and ultimately reaching several hundred thousand underinsured or uninsured Black Americans.
The Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City, said participating churches were stepping forward to serve as a “first line of defense” for the Black community against the virus.
“I’m delighted to say we are strongly together across denominational lines and, even when there may be political differences, we still stand shoulder to shoulder in meeting this crisis,” Butts said.
The coronavirus has killed more than 250,000 Americans, with hospitalizations reaching an all-time high this week as U.S. deaths from the virus reached their highest levels since the pandemic surged in the spring. The Black community has been hit hard, with an August study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding that African Americans had a virus hospitalization rate 4.7 times higher and a death rate 2.1 times higher than the white population.
Sheena Wright, CEO of the United Way of New York City, highlighted that impact in describing plans to help boost the partnership’s technical and fundraising capacities.
“We are focused on really closing the opportunity gap for communities of color around the city, and we’ve certainly seen in COVID-19 the profound disparities and impact on the Black community,” Wright said, pointing to a historic “lack of investment in health institutions” that serve Black Americans.
The virus testing is set to start in January in five cities: New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Washington and Newark, New Jersey. Among the clergy helping to spearhead the effort are the civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and a Democratic Senate candidate in Georgia.
Funding support will come from testing company Quest Diagnostics and Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit-backed public health initiative led by Tom Frieden, director of the CDC during the Obama administration.
The project is modeled in part on the strategy used by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, founded in the 1980s to battle another epidemic that disproportionally hit Black Americans. The coronavirus initiative will involve the establishment of leadership roles at participating churches with responsibility to coordinate testing, tracing and connection of virus-positive people with health care, said Debra Fraser-Howze, founder of the AIDS commission and a partner in the new project.
The coronavirus struggle “is similar to the AIDS epidemic” in that the Black community has “been again left out, locked out of resources,” Fraser-Howze said. “We have the highest rates of death and illness. So it is time for those that lead us to understand what is going on.”__
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
For the past 15 years my family tradition is to travel from Washington, D.C., along with both grandparents, to sunny Florida to celebrate Thanksgiving with cousins. This year we decided to skip the travel and will have fall and winter celebrations at home.
We are not canceling the holidays, but to keep ourselves and others safe, we are keeping plans small and flexible and remembering that the health of those we love is most important as we enter the season of gratitude.
Before you gather
First, it is important that everyone who will be attending any holiday celebration is on the same page about how to take precautions before getting together. The idea is to lower infection risk in the weeks leading up to the holidays and then test to confirm.
In conjunction with quarantining, testing is the second strategy.
Research has consistently shown that people are most contagious a day or two before they show symptoms, so everyone plans to get tested with an RT-PCR test within 72 hours of Thanksgiving, while still being able to get results in hand before we gather.
No matter how careful you and your family are, there is some risk that someone will be infected. With that in mind, the goal is to reduce the conditions that lead to viral spread. The biggest risks are indoor spaces with poor ventilation, large groups and close contact. So we are planning the opposite: a short outdoor Thanksgiving with a small group and plenty of space between everyone.
To reduce the risk of infection from flying and to keep the gathering small, the only people coming to Thanksgiving at my family’s home in D.C. are my mother, my aunt and my uncle – all of whom live within driving distance. This is in addition to myself, my husband and our kids. When deciding how many people will come to the holidays, keep it small and consider the amount of space you have to maintain social distancing.
If the weather cooperates, we plan to be outside for trivia games and the turkey meal. Rather than eat around one table, we will have individual tables and place settings spaced far apart and space heaters around. I’ve got a mini care package planned for each guest so that everyone will have their own blanket, hand sanitizer, utensils and a festive mask. My mother won’t be helping out in the kitchen this year and, unfortunately, that goes for cleanup too. We won’t take a group picture but I will be sure to capture some of the special moments.
If the weather doesn’t cooperate, Plan B is to be inside in the large family room with as many windows open as possible and with everyone spaced as far apart as possible. Being outside is safer, but if you must be indoors, improve ventilation by opening doors and windows. Consider turning on exhaust fans and using an air purifier.
Everyone who lives in the household will be in one section while my mom will have her own individual area, as will my aunt and uncle. Even though we won’t hold hands before sharing the meal, we will still recite that we are “thankful for family, friends and food.”
Whether outside or inside, everyone will wear masks when they aren’t eating, maintain 6 feet of distance and use the hand sanitizer that I will place throughout the house.
It is also important to be mindful of alcohol consumption, as a pandemic is not the time for lowered inhibitions and bad judgment.
After the event
I hope everyone enjoys the meal and quality time spent with one another in this melancholy year, but the work is not done once the dishes are clean and everyone is home safely.
Everyone is planning to get another COVID–19 test one week after the meal. Additionally, Thanksgiving is our family’s trial run for Christmas, so a few days after, I plan to call everyone and discuss what worked well and what didn’t. If all goes well, I hope to repeat this quarantine, test and gather process for Christmas.
The ending of 2020 deserves to be celebrated, given this difficult year. This Thanksgiving will be different from those of other years, and my kids understand they need to manage their expectations. But we still plan to uphold our tradition of writing all that we are thankful for and reading our messages aloud to one another. We will still share love, some laughs and a good meal while everyone does their part to protect one another.