A letter to Black America for those who do not want to take the COVID-19 vaccine

I am a Black female physician who entered medicine with the hopes to serve her community. I am “Black and Proud,” in the words of James Brown. I love all of my patients, regardless of their race or ethnicity, but I am not afraid to admit that Black Lives Matter.

With all of that being said, it has broken my heart to note that at this moment during the pandemic, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Black people are contracting COVID-19 1.4 times more frequently than their white counterparts, being hospitalized 3.7 more times, and dying 2.8 times. This is a problem.

When it was announced that there was a vaccine available, a spark of hope blossomed for a moment; then I realized that it would be a complicated journey for doctors to help educate Black people about the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the vaccine. We are living in a world of distrust. This is not new. Of course, there are rumblings of distrust, given the intimately cruel history of medical experimentations that Black people have been an unknowing or unwilling participant for literal centuries.

Being a Family Medicine physician, I expected a few questions about the validity of a new vaccine recommended by a system that seemingly has not been looking out for you in the past. Unsurprisingly, there is a swarm of questions popping up in group chats, social media, and communities about whether black people should or should not accept the vaccine.

I am happy that people are trying to critically think about their health. You are asking good questions. Here is a little bit about the vaccine. At this point, it will be given to certain frontline health care professionals and nursing home residents initially, followed by high-risk patients, and then finally the general population. This will be administered over the next year, as there is a limited supply.

Different states will have different availabilities. This is not a magic shot.  It will likely help decrease symptoms and prevent death if you take it, but may not necessarily prevent the ability to get it or spread it. There are several kinds in the pipeline. The ones so far look quite promising with extremely good data. After almost a year of so much loss, devastation, and isolation, we have hope.

Hope is a good thing. This vaccine can change the trajectory of the future. People came together from across the globe to study, test, and develop a viable solution to stop people from dying. When Black people are dying 2.8 times more than the general population, this is a good thing! It’s also impressive that the final product came together in less than a year.

That timeline frightens some, but it’s a little more complicated than that. COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus and is also known as SARS-CoV-2. SARS may sound familiar, as we had an outbreak years ago of SARS-CoV-1. This means that we have been working to learn about this type of virus for years.

This helped expedite some of the research. Another component of having the ability to research the vaccine comes with the unfortunate number of present global cases. With millions of cases, it was tested on thousands of people. These people were from all over the world.

This global pandemic has affected over 191 countries, 72 million people and led to 1.6 million deaths. Hence, all of the world’s best and brightest scientists have been working on this. Moderna’s vaccine was developed with a Black female scientist, Kizzmekia Corbett, working as a co-lead of the team at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

German researchers of Turkish descent developed Pfizer’s vaccine. It’s reassuring that other countries are standing with us. Several countries have approved the vaccine before the U.S. approved it for utilization. We will be in this together with the rest of the developed world.

As a Black physician, I urge you to consider taking the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to you. Vaccines save lives. Preventing poor outcomes, as in death, is an exciting effect of this vaccine.  I will be first in line when it is offered to me, and I hope to see you in line next to me. Masked up, of course.