Since we last wrote in this space, a mere 9 days ago, another 26,000 Americans have lost their lives due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This national tragedy caused by this COVID-19 pandemic is obviously a still accelerating catastrophe that unfortunately is likely to worsen over the next six weeks. The hospitalizations and new case daily numbers in the USA hit record numbers of 113,000 and over 232,000 respectively, yesterday, contributing to the total death number of over 313,000. The depth of our health despair is compounded by the 8 million Americans who have fallen into poverty since June, giving the US an 11% poverty rate, and the continuing rise in the new weekly jobless claim to 885,000 this week.
Based on the above, we therefore need to do everything we can to stem the tide of this devastation. Our organization, the Cincinnati Medical Association, is recommending that each eligible American take a COVID-19 vaccine when their time comes. The Pfizer vaccine was approved for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) last week and vaccinations started this week. The Moderna vaccine was approved for EUA today, with distribution to begin early next week. Both vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective at preventing disease and hopefully will be proven to help prevent the spread of this dreaded virus. Both have been proven to be safe with very few serious side effects. These vaccines represent the beginning of the end of this pandemic, BUT we are not there yet! Our eliminating this scourge from our country, and the world, depends on all citizens being willing to become vaccinated. Unfortunately, there is vaccine hesitancy or resistance with a variety of explanations. These are political, cultural, and historical and are present across many ethnicities.
As African American physicians we are particularly sensitive to the apprehensions held by many in our communities. We have always believed that providing information will allow people to be armed to make their own decision. Some say, “that these vaccines were developed too fast”. It is true that it has typically taken years to develop a vaccine whereas these two COVID-19 vaccines have gotten EUA in only 11 months. It needs to be understood that their new underlying technology has been studied for about two decades. An African American female scientist named Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who works at the National Institute of Health, has made the development of this technology her life work since 2014. Further shortening the time to development is that the production of actual vials of these vaccines began before the phase II and III trials were completed. The drug companies were relieved of the financial risks of any possible failure by American taxpayers footing the bill for the production, and some development.
Another concern is that one might develop the disease from the vaccine. Because no part of the virus is injected into the body, a person cannot develop COVID-19 from the vaccination. Because they were sure of the safety of the vaccines, three of our member physicians were participants in one of the trials. The substantial numbers of people of color in both trials proved that the safety profile extends across ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, millions of individuals outside of the trials have now gotten the Pfizer vaccine. The most frequent, yet still only occasional, vaccination side effects have been arm soreness, slight fever, fatigue, or headaches, all which typically resolved by 36 hours after injection. The rare, statistically 1 in a million, allergic reactions have been recognized and easily treated.
Last, but certainly not least, many African Americans have a profound mistrust for America’s healthcare system based on the well documented, inappropriate at best, experimentation such as the Tuskegee Experiment and the Ms. Henrietta Lack cancer research. Additionally, there are ongoing healthcare disparities, cultural incompetency’s, implicit biases, lack of access, etc. which understandably elevate suspicion. We recognize that we cannot change the history of our country but understand that overcoming this pandemic will only come about when 75% of Americans have been vaccinated. In that the lives, health, and livelihoods of people of color are disproportionately affected by this virus, it is our fervent call that all Americans, particularly those in our communities, get vaccinated. WEAR your mask, WASH hands, and WATCH your distance, while you WAIT your vaccine turn!
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association