Story and Photos by Madison Brydie
Data News Weekly Contributor
As the number of fully vaccinated residents in Louisiana increased weekly to 413,000 by April 12th, Southern University joined the statewide push in the fight against COVID-19 through its statewide vaccination day. On April 10th, the university administered the one-dose Johnson & Johnson Vaccine across its five campuses and four additional sites, including its Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO) Campus. The university system provided the vaccines in collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Health, that was administered by the Louisiana National Guard. The vaccination event is part of the Southern University system’s “Don’t Wait.
Vaccinate!” effort to encourage racial minority groups to get vaccinated.
“We have to put out more information about it and we have to circulate it on social media and circulate it through traditional media outlets as well, but to provide more information on how these vaccines were developed, [the] testing that it went through, and it has been approved by the USDA,” said Alfred E. Harrell III, the Executive Director of the Southern University System Foundation.
The event is the second step in educating the African American community on how important it is to maintain their health and get vaccinated. Despite African Americans being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, the community is still recording a lower vaccination rate statewide, Alfred explained.
Dozens of community members gathered on a Saturday at the SUNO Campus to get their vaccination and to access the free vaccine. After getting vaccinated, some residents shared their relief knowing that they are safer from the virus.
“Being able to be okay, because I had a sister that had it and she wasn’t okay, it took a while for her to come back to us,” said Shongyla Williams, 60, a retired Harrah’s Casino host who said that it was this up-close reference to the effects of COVID-19 when her sister tested positive, that encouraged her to get vaccinated.
“As soon as she got on her feet and they started developing the vaccine she got it and she told me to get it, and I did.”
Other participants felt a similar sense of relief after their vaccination, like 19-year-old SUNO student Sanaia M. Despite a lower risk of severe complications from the virus, she shared that she still maintained a serious concern for COVID-19. After her vaccination, she was most excited about the new sense of safety from the immunity the vaccine creates.
“This vaccination has become a safeguard to relieve the fear of COVID-19 in everyday lives. People hope to weaken the fear that affects them every day and get back to normal,” she shared.
Normalcy was 43-year-old Retail Manager, Conrad Barre’s main motivation for his vaccination. “I aspire to get back to regular, and get back to normalcy,” Barre said. Just like Williams, he said when he left he felt great after receiving the vaccine and ready to continue his day.
A positive reaction was common among other participants; however, Bonita Robinson, 53, who got vaccinated with her daughter Brianna Robinson, 29, continued to hold skepticism toward the vaccines, even after getting vaccinated herself. Both Bonita and her daughter’s primary motivation behind getting the vaccine was concern for Bonita’s mother and Brianna’s grandmother’s health. They also had different opinions on the vaccine research and trials.
Bonita said she still had reservations even after her vaccination.
“No, I was not excited about getting it. I got it for my mother. I don’t think enough testing was done. I don’t think 100,000 people is enough to test. I don’t think they did enough tests on interactions with other medicine and the long-term effects of that,” Bonita said.
However, her daughter Brianna shared she was indifferent toward the vaccination.
“I didn’t feel strongly about getting it, but I didn’t feel strongly opposed to getting it, so why not get it. I got my mom to get it and got my friend here to get it as well,” Brianna said.
Despite varying motivations to getting vaccinated, the SUNO event maintained a steady flow of residents throughout the day. About 81 residents were vaccinated at the SUNO location and over 100 Louisianans vaccinated statewide.
The university aims to host additional vaccination events in May, collaborating with Ochsner Health. The university system will also hold webinars on the differences between the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna vaccines on May 4th. The public can get information on accessing the vaccine through the university’s vaccine resource page on its website.
“Our goal is to continue to educate our citizens on how important it is to get vaccinated,” Harrell said.