African Americans Share Experiences with COVID-19 Vaccine

Justice Page Data News Weekly Contributor

The COVID-19 vaccine will become more readily available for more eligible groups beginning in late March as vaccine manufacturers reached a major milestone on March 19th to produce enough vaccines to be distributed across the country. Some 7 million Louisiana residents have been vaccinated since December 2020. And as many residents have completed both doses of the approved vaccines, they are sharing with their neighbors and friends their experiences with getting vaccinated.

“At first I was skeptical, because I’ve heard it takes a significant amount of time to get a vaccine developed,” said Mya Willis, a public health student at Xavier University of Louisiana. “What persuaded me to get it was the fact that my mom was fully vaccinated, and she did not suffer from any side effects, I didn’t hear her mention or complain about anything related to the vaccination other than the soreness that followed the second shot.”

Willis said as an allied health student she wanted to join other frontline, healthcare workers and the elderly who were among the first groups eligible to get the vaccine. She shared that now that the vaccine is available to younger residents with specific pre-existing conditions, she decided to step up and get vaccinated.

“When I found out that Xavier was partnered with Tulane University, offering the vaccination to students, I said alright, what do I really have to lose?” Willis said. “I just want to go back to a normal life. I got my first shot three weeks ago, and I am scheduled to receive the second dosage next Tuesday,” Willis added.

Willis is not alone in her initial hesitancy about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. There are in fact many people in the African American community who were unsure about it, experts said. Past historical events have had many in the community on edge about the particular outcomes of the vaccine, but fears have changed as African American health care professionals, elders, and public figures have set the example nationwide demonstrating the importance of getting vaccinated when the time is presented to the wider public.

“I try to tell people to take it at my church and my community to be the example,” said Allene McCann, a registered nurse at Guardian Angel Hospice in Metairie. “I took mine as soon as I could … I think it is safe and I encourage everybody to take it,” McCann added.

The African American community has been hit the hardest by this virus and the pandemic. The death rates have been extremely high due to the exposure rates. Pharmacist Christopher Sylvain explained why, in fact, people of this community should consider the vaccine.

“We disproportionately live-in multi-family housing and have direct contact jobs,” Sylvain said. “We already suffer from decreased opportunities in many areas, but vaccination rates have a lot to do with pastors and other community leaders encouraging others to make the right choice,” he said.

Sylvain, who is also a pastor of Faith Full Gospel Baptist Church, and a fellow physician started the Christian Vaccine Access Coalition to assist local churches helping members of the community get scheduled to be vaccinated. Since last year, Sylvain has been working with the Louisiana Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19.

Disparities to ensure that the Black community had the facts about the vaccine and access to clinical trials inclusion and the latest data on vaccine research.

“The numbers are holding worldwide that vaccination provides almost 100 percent protection against death, while being unvaccinated gives anyone almost 100 percent exposure to death,” Sylvain said.

“The choice should be clear to get vaccinated asap, to not be exposed to the possibility of being infected and possibly dying,” he said. “This is an excellent opportunity to show concern and compassion for others within our own community and it also shows the power of people working together in groups,” Sylvain added.

Natalie Reine, a minister, and member of Faith Full Gospel Baptist Church is supervising the daily work of the access coalition to get individuals as much information they need on receiving the vaccine.

“What we’ve done, we’ve actively taken a role in this by forming a coalition. The coalition actively calls providers on hand, we are connected with the Louisiana Department of Health. We find out if they have the vaccine right now, we found out who out of the providers have the vaccine right now; which type, where are they located, how to make an appointment, that sort of thing,” Reine shared.

Through the coalition’s website, individuals are able to become informed about where the vaccine is available, in real time, and then set appointments or be added to a wait list.

“We gather that information and publicize it on our website in order for the community to view it and know where they are able to get vaccinated,” Reine said.

With the vaccine becoming available to all ages above 16, more young people said they are willing to get in line if it will protect the elderly, their family and help the city reopen fully.

“I think everyone should get the vaccine because it is another step in the right direction,” said Blaine Turner, a biology student at Xavier. “We have the ability to protect ourselves and communities with the vaccine so we should take advantage of it,” Turner said.

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