By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor
“Let us not pass up the opportunity to benefit from science,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith during last week’s virtual press conference that brought together numerous black-owned newspapers from around the country with several members of the White House Task Force on COVID-19.
Dr. Nunez-Smith and her colleague, Dr. Cameron Webb, were invited by the National Newspaper Press Association President and CEO Benjamin Chavis, PhD, to speak with the black press about the impact of the several available vaccines on the African-American community and what the Biden Administration and the community at large can do to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
Dr. Nunez-Smith is associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale University’s School of Medicine and the chairman of the White House COVID-19 Equity Task Force. Dr. Webb is an assistant professor of medicine and public health science at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine and a senior policy advisor for the Task Force.
Nunez-Smith opened the discussion by responding to an inquiry about the causes of vaccine hesitancy among the nation’s Black population. She divided the concerns into two time frames – historic issues and contemporary experiences.
The famous Tuskegee Experiment falls into the historic time frame she said, while an ongoing “level of skepticism” fits into the contemporary experience. “We are eager to provide facts,” she noted of the Task Force’s challenge.
Dr. Webb spoke of three issues – the three “C’s” in the framework of vaccine hesitancy: complacency – “I’m not going to get the vaccine;” confidence – “is it safe and efficacious?” and convenience – whether there is real access to the shot.
To determine why a person has yet to receive a vaccine, “we should start the conversation by asking ‘why are you still in a wait and see mode?’” said Dr. Webb.
While vaccine hesitancy has started to dissipate to some degree in the black population compared to some other groups, the numbers indicate that there is quite an issue getting the vaccines into black arms. According to Dr. Webb, in those instances where the breakdown of vaccines by ethnic groups are known, only nine percent of shots have gone into black arms, only 12 percent into Hispanic arms. However, said Dr. Webb, such information has not been provided for about 40 percent of those vaccinated.
If the Biden Administration’s goal is to see that 70 percent of the population is fully vaccinated by July 4, how can Americans help their fellow Americans reach that goal, the doctors were asked.
“It’s about getting everyone in our social network vaccinated,” said Dr. Nunez-Smith. “You have to see people you know.”
“We have to emphasize what is misinformation and disinformation,” said Dr. Webb. Disinformation, he described as deliberate distortion of facts and science which evolves into a mass spread of misinformation.
“We have to understand what’s true and real,” he said. “The science bears out that these vaccines are effective.”
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on the m-RNA science and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine relies on viral vector science. Both sciences “teach the body how to recognize the threat of the virus without introducing the actual virus into the body,” said Dr. Webb.
This science, which has been in development for decades, is dramatically different from the vaccines, such as the smallpox vaccine, which have been in existence for several centuries.
Traditionally, vaccines have introduced into the body a bit of the virus in hopes that the body will fight off the small amount and develop an immunity.
“The date on the 105 million fully vaccinated tells us how safe these vaccines are,” said Dr. Webb.
“The processes are transparent,” said Dr. Nunez-Smith. “There was a diverse representation of scientists as part of that process. Please go to people you trust for information – seek voices you know who have your best interest at heart.”