Like many black and rural Americans, Denese Rankin, a 55-year-old retired accountant and receptionist in Castleberry, Alabama, did not want the Covid-19 vaccine.
Ms Rankin was worried about side effects – she had seen stories on social media about people developing Bell’s palsy, for example, after being vaccinated. She thought the vaccines had arrived too quickly to be sure. And she feared that vaccinations were another example in the government’s long history of medical experimentation on blacks.
Then, one recent weekend, her niece, an infectious disease specialist at Emory University in Atlanta, came to town. Dr Zanthia Wiley said one of her goals while making the trip was to talk to her friends and family at their home in Alabama, getting them to hear the truth about vaccines from someone they know, someone. ‘one that is black.
Across the country, black and Hispanic doctors like Dr Wiley are speaking to Americans in minority communities who are often wary of Covid-19 vaccines and are often suspicious of officials they see on TV telling them to get the vaccine. Many reject public service announcements, say doctors, and the federal government.
Although acceptance of the vaccine is increasing, black and Hispanic Americans – among the groups hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic – remain among the most reluctant to roll up their sleeves. Even health workers in some hospitals have refused vaccines.
But insurance from black and Hispanic doctors can make a huge difference, experts say. “I don’t want us to benefit the least from it,” Dr. Wiley said. “We should be the first to get it.”
Many doctors like her now find themselves not only urging their friends and relatives to get the shots, but also posting on social media and conducting group video calls, asking people to share their concerns and offering advice. reliable information.
“I think it makes all the difference,” said Dr Valeria Daniela Lucio Cantos, infectious disease specialist at Emory. She has hosted town halls and online immunization-themed webinars, including one with black and Hispanic employees of the university’s cleaning staff.
She thinks they’re listening, not only because she’s Hispanic and speaks Spanish, she said, but also because she’s an immigrant – her family is still in Ecuador. “Culturally, they have someone they can relate to,” said Dr. Cantos.
Many of those who hesitate to get vaccinated are mainstays of health in their own families. Ms Rankin, for example, helps take care of Dr Wiley’s grandmother, who is blind, and her grandfather, who cannot walk. Ms Rankin looks at Dr Wiley’s mother, whose health is fragile. And she is the single mother of three daughters, including a 14-year-old daughter who still lives at the home.
“If my aunt were infected my family would be in dire straits,” said Dr Wiley.
Dr Wiley met Ms Rankin, her daughter and mother in the living room of a brick ranch house on a quiet street – socially remote and wearing masks. Dr Wiley answered questions and explained the science behind the vaccine.
No, she said, the vaccine is not made from live coronaviruses that could infect people. No, just because someone was vaccinated and got sick doesn’t mean the vaccine made them sick.
And yes, the vaccine has been tested on tens of thousands of people and the data scrutinized by scientists with nothing to gain and everything to lose by pushing it prematurely.
With the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine starting in the United States, here are the answers to some questions you might be wondering:
- If I live in the United States, when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccinees can vary by state, most will likely prioritize medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help you.
- When can I resume a normal life after being vaccinated? Life will only return to normal when society as a whole is sufficiently protected against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they will only be able to immunize a few percent of their citizens at most in the first two months. The unvaccinated majority will always remain vulnerable to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show strong protection against the disease. But it is also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they are infected, as they have only mild symptoms, if any. Scientists do not yet know if vaccines also block transmission of the coronavirus. So for now, even vaccinated people will have to wear masks, avoid crowds inside, etc. Once enough people are vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we, as a society, reach this goal, life may start to move closer to something normal by fall 2021.
- If I have been vaccinated, do I still have to wear a mask? Yes, but not forever. Here’s why. Vaccines against the coronavirus are injected deep into the muscles and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies. This appears to be sufficient protection to prevent the vaccinated person from getting sick. But what’s not clear is whether it’s possible for the virus to bloom in the nose – and either sneeze or breathe out to infect other people – even though antibodies elsewhere in the body have mobilized to prevent the vaccinated person to get sick. Clinical vaccine trials were designed to find out whether people vaccinated are protected against the disease – not whether they could still spread the coronavirus. Based on studies of the flu vaccine and even of patients infected with Covid-19, researchers have reason to hope that those vaccinated will not spread the virus, but more research is needed. In the meantime, everyone, even those who have been vaccinated, will have to think of themselves as possible silent spreaders and continue to wear a mask. Learn more here.
- Will it hurt? What are the side effects? The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is given by injection into the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection into your arm won’t be different from any other vaccine, but the rate of short-lived side effects seems higher than a flu shot. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines and none of them have reported serious health problems. Side effects, which can resemble symptoms of Covid-19, last for about a day and seem more likely after the second dose. The first reports of vaccine trials suggest that some people may need to take time off work because they feel unwell after receiving the second dose. In the Pfizer study, about half developed fatigue. Other side effects occurred in at least 25-33% of patients, sometimes more, including headache, chills, and muscle pain. Although these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign that your own immune system is preparing a powerful response to the vaccine that will provide long-lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to stimulate the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is ultimately destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slip inside. The cell uses mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any given time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce to make their own proteins. Once these proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules made by our cells can only survive for a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is designed to resist the enzymes in the cell for a bit longer, so that the cells can make additional viral proteins and elicit a stronger immune response. But mRNA can only last a few days at most before being destroyed.
Dr Wiley told them she was looking forward to being vaccinated herself.
Dr Virginia Banks, an infectious disease specialist in Youngstown, Ohio, who is black, understands the community’s long-standing distrust of the medical establishment.
But she has seen too many people – and not all of them elderly – suffer and die in the pandemic, she said. And Dr. Banks worries about her own risks when caring for patients. “I feel like I’m playing Russian roulette,” she says.
So she tells stories to those who are reluctant to get vaccinated, like that of a patient she recently treated, breathless. He asked her, “Am I going to make it out alive?” She told him she didn’t know.
“We have to tell these stories” to black Americans, she said. “And it has to come from someone who looks like them.”
“My friends and family say, ‘Even if the risk is one in a million, I’m not taking it,’” she added. “I said, ‘I understand your distrust, but this is beyond Tuskegee. It’s beyond “The Immortal Life of Henrietta is Missing.” We are currently in a pandemic. We have to trust science. “”
Dr Banks stresses the ripple effects of individual decisions: “If you don’t take this vaccine and it’s safe, we’ll be wearing masks for a while. If you want to get your life back, if you want to get back to normalcy, you have to rely on trusted messengers like me.
Dr Leo Seoane, an intensive care doctor at Ochsner Health in New Orleans who is Hispanic, has already been vaccinated. When he started talking to his friends, family and other members of the community, virtually everyone said they would not get the shot.
They were concerned that the vaccine was developed too quickly, that it was not safe, that it was not effective, or that it could infect them with the coronavirus. Now, after a gentle persuasion, “for one person, they’ve all changed their minds.”
But few believe that it will only take one or two conversations with a trusted doctor to convert vaccine skeptics into believers.
“When they started talking about the possibility of a vaccine in April, I said, ‘Not at all,’ said Phelemon Reins, a 56-year-old federal government employee. He was wary of the rapid development of vaccines and knew all too well the history of the mistreatment of blacks by the medical system.
“The Trump administration has done nothing to make anyone trust anything that comes out,” he added. “I reject everything they say.”
But Dr Banks, a friend, made him rethink his reluctance. “At the end of the day, it will be people like her that I will depend on,” Mr. Reins said. “I believe her.”
“How to convince the African-American community?” he said. “They might need people who look like him.”