CLEVELAND -- According to data from the Kaiser Foundation, Black people made up 12% of Ohios total population and 13% of total COVID-19 cases but as of March 29, had only received 7% of vaccinations.
This is an issue, as Black and Hispanic people are about three times more likely than white people nationally to become hospitalized due to COVID, and about two times more likely to die from it. When minorities are more at risk for deadly outcomes, equality does not equate to equity.
COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans should have been heavily targeted toward these populations from the beginning, and they were not. However, due to recent efforts like the federal mass vaccination site at Cleveland State Universitys Wolstein Center, numbers are beginning to reflect our population. Nearly 17% of Black people in Ohio have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccine hesitancy is a concern. In the United States, many Black people rightfully have deep-rooted feelings of mistrust with the health care system, reflecting historical atrocities, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Truthfully, disparities today, including the alarming number of Black women dying related to pregnancy and childbirth complications, show that we dont have to take a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves that this mistrust is valid, and warranted.
I spoke with Dr. Emmitt Jolly, chair-elect of the Case Western Reserve University Department of Biology, and an alum of Tuskegee University, about these problems.
Dr. Jolly said: We cant let the issues of our past limit the success of our future. Unfortunately, most of what people in Cleveland know about Tuskegee University is its connection to the syphilis testing. But as a student there, I refused to let those dark days of the past limit my present chances to get a top-notch education and to achieve a successful career studying infectious diseases. Be aware of the past, but take all the steps you can to protect yourself and your friends and family today.
In fact, we have found that vaccine hesitancy is not the root problem -- lack of access and misinformation are. A study last fall found that 41% of Black adults knew little to nothing about how vaccines are created, and 30% knew little to nothing about how they actually work.
A step in the right direction would be providing more education on herd immunity and how, similar to the historic election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we cant achieve it without Black people. A recent article by Debra Furr-Holden, associate dean for public health integration at Michigan State University, lays it out clearly: For herd immunity to serve as a layer of protection for the United States, at least 70% of the population must get vaccinated. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60% of the population is white; therefore, even if every white person in the United States received the vaccine, minority buy-in is absolutely necessary for the country to regain some kind of normalcy.
So, with all this in mind, as a Black woman, who works on vaccine development for infectious diseases and closely with the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus as part of my work, I decided to get the vaccine because of the facts: The fact that I am at risk of contracting the virus and of having poorer outcomes because of my race and health care access. The fact that I have seen too many people who look like me afflicted by this virus. And the fact that, by getting this vaccine, Im doing my part to return to normalcy.
Do Black Americans have a reason to be hesitant due to our countrys current infrastructure? Of course. But those odds stacked against us, the ones producing health disparities, make it that much more imperative that we protect ourselves. And that health care professionals and officials put in the work to ensure we have access to the resources.
Kyla Johnson is studying for a masters in public health degree at Case Western Reserve University and is a technician in the Flow Cytometry Core, which provides analysis and sorting of cells.
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Closing the gap - why I got the COVID-19 vaccine: Kyla Johnson - cleveland.com
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