Doctors urge Black community to get vaccine, once it’s deemed safe

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Experts say COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color, which is why a group of Black physicians are encouraging the African American community to take a COVID-19 vaccine, once it’s proven safe.

Consider how the pandemic has affected the Black community in Jacksonville. According to Florida Department of Health data, Black people make up 29.8 percent of Duval County’s COVID-19 cases, despite accounting for 29 percent of the county’s total population.

But due to inequities in healthcare, physicians acknowledge that getting the Black community to take the vaccine once it’s available won’t be an easy sell. It’s because of that distrust that the Black Coalition Against Covid was formed. Led by eight prominent doctors, the group wants people to take the virus seriously.

“Our colleagues across healthcare know that we are urging our community to take safe and effective vaccines once available,” the coalition stated in an open letter posted online. “However, for this to be successful, they must do more to earn your trust — now and in the future.”

It’s a message that resonates with Dr. Carol Jenkins Neil, president of the First Coast Black Nurses Association, an organization whose national president also signed the letter.

“I want to err on (the side of it) being safe and effective,” she said of the COVID-19 vaccine. “A lot of people in the African American community, they have that perception of, ‘Are they really telling me the truth?’”

Historically, she said, there are reasons for that distrust. She cited the cases of Henrietta Lacks — a Black woman and cervical cancer patient whose cancer cells were harvested by researchers without her permission before she died in 1951 and whose cell line became key to scientific research — and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

“To this day, they still remember that,” Dr. Jenkins Neil said. “And they feel like when they go in the hospital, ‘Am I really going to be treated fairly?’”

She’s skeptical about the diversity of the COVID-19 patients selected to participate in vaccines’ clinical trials. According to Pfizer, 30 percent of the drug maker’s vaccine participants come from diverse backgrounds and of that 30 percent, 10 percent are Black people.

“We don’t want to wait forever, but we need to look at the data,” she said. “We need to look at evidence-based data. We need proof.”

Jenkins Neil said Black communities across the country and here in Jacksonville must consider access to medicine, access to transportation for multiple doses of the vaccine and how it responds differently for people who have underlying and preexisting health conditions.

She said she’s spoken with Jacksonville residents about taking the vaccine. And while she found that many aren’t convinced and are actually discouraged because the pandemic has become a politicized issue, she is encouraging people to get educated on the vaccines and their effectiveness.

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