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Janice Frazier-Scott, MA, is SCO’s Human Resources Generalist/Title IX Coordinator. In this guest column, she addresses some of the historical mistrust in the African-American community regarding vaccines and healthcare disparities and shares her thought about how she decided the COVID-19 vaccine was right for her.
As an African American, I know that there is lots of conversation, consternation, and reluctance to get inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine. I know why we have that reluctance. We know about the Tuskegee “experiment” that was conducted by the Federal Government which resulted in the infection and non-treatment of black men with syphilis back in 1932 that was finally completed in 1972. Patients in the study were never told what was going on or what they were being treated for. They were told they had “bad blood” which could mean almost anything—anemia, fatigue, etc. And some of us are also aware of Henrietta Lacks, the black woman who unknowingly donated her cells to Johns Hopkins Hospital for medical research while she was being treated for cervical cancer.
Historically, black and brown people have experienced a disparity in the type of medical care that they’ve received—they don’t know whether to trust what their doctor is telling them. In some instances, their medical concerns are brushed off or discounted as unimportant or imaginary, so I get why our communities have a concern about the new COVID-19 vaccine.
While I’ve been vaccinated all of my life for various diseases (chickenpox, measles, polio), when the vaccine was being developed I had a reluctance as to whether I would get my shot because I thought anything that was brought out this quickly after a virus had been discovered had to be suspect. I watched the coronavirus taskforce briefings on TV and I was skeptical of things that were being said because some of them were contradictory, and in some instances as when it was suggested that a bleach injection or ultraviolent light would cure the virus, I was totally convinced this wasn’t for me. But, I have several underlying health conditions that made me a high risk, so I knew that it was likely in my best interest to get vaccinated if I felt that the science was sound.
I started to do my own research about the vaccine and learned that although this was a new strain of coronavirus, researchers had been developing vaccines to combat these types of viruses for years. They didn’t just get up one morning and say “ah ha, this is the one.” Advances in research methods and technology had enabled the proteins associated with this particular virus to be isolated and tested through a rigorous process so that the medication and the science behind it was sound.
In addition, when I learned that one of the primary researchers who developed the vaccine was an African American woman, I said that surely she wouldn’t be doing something that would harm me! So, on Wednesday, January 13, I lined up at the Fairgrounds about 30 minutes before my scheduled appointment time to receive my first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
As I sat in the line I had mixed emotions—I was excited that I was about to get my shot and also a bit anxious as to whether I could expect side effects and how bad they might be. My sister-in-law is a nurse and she had advised that I take Tylenol prior to the shot and then again before going to bed that night. I followed those instructions to the letter. The only “side effect” I had was a slight tenderness at the injection site the day after getting my shot. That went away by the second day.
I’m eagerly awaiting my second dose which should be administered in February. I am glad to one step closer to developing immunity to COVID-19 and looking forward to when the world opens back up. I miss seeing my family and friends and look forward to being able to travel again. When making a decision about the vaccine, remember that your decision impacts your family. It’s far better to have a few side effects than to be attached to a ventilator in the hospital, unable to have your family visit with you and see how you are. The likelihood of recovery from minor side effects is much higher than contracting the virus and getting critically ill.
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