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As California Reopens, Black Doctors Answer Nagging COVID Questions

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Tanu Henry | California Black Media

Can COVID vaccines affect fertility? Were Black people used in the COVID vaccine research studies? Do you still need to get vaccinated if you’ve already had COVID-19? What is emergency use authorization?

These are just four out of about 50 resurfacing questions a group of Black doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals answers in a video intended to penetrate clouds of misinformation about COVID-19 as it provides vital information that addresses lingering questions, still unanswered, that many people have about COVID-19.

The video titled “A Conversation: Between Us, About Us” is moderated by Palo Alto native, comedian and San Francisco resident W. Kamau Bell. The video is produced with the support of a partnership between the Black Coalition Against COVID (BCAC), a national advocacy group, and the San Francisco-based Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a philanthropic non-profit focused on generating data and resources to equip policymakers and the general public with important health information.

Berkeley-based Jacob Kornbluth Productions worked with KFF and BCAC to create the videos. California Health Care Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund and Sierra Health Foundation also contributed to funding the production and distribution of the video.

“I was a part of the expert African American panel, which is a group of providers like myself – with doctors, nurses, community people, et cetera. This is a group that was created through the National Institutes of Health to review the various vaccine protocols for the different companies that were developing the vaccines,” said Orlando Harris, a public health researcher, during the introduction of the video featuring him.

The healthcare professionals’ push to educate African Americans with the intention to reduce “vaccine hesitancy” is just one of many other similar campaigns around the country organized by civil rights organizations, government agencies, professional organizations, community groups, foundations and others.

The information they are providing comes at a time when California is taking major steps to relax social isolation guidelines, reopen large businesses like theme parks and restart in-person learning for children attending K-12 public schools. Last week, Gov. Newsom announced that the state is investing $6.6 billion into recovery efforts that include facilitating the safe reopening of schools.

On Friday, Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services Secretary, said he believes as more Californians become vaccinated the safer it would be to change the state-issued guidance on restricted activities. Theme parks could reopen as soon as April 1, he said.

“We feel like now is the appropriate time to begin to reintroduce these activities in some fashion and, again, in a guarded way, in a slow and steady way, with the other protective factors of the blueprint all sort of wrapped around it,” Ghaly said during the news briefing.

The medical professionals who participated in the “Conversation” project say the information they share in the videos will facilitate discussions among family members and arm health workers with credible information they need to answer questions patients may have.

“Taking off my hat as a clinician and a researcher, I have to go home and have conversations with my mom, with my dad, and my grandparents about the vaccine and why taking the vaccine is important,” explained Harris, who is also a family nurse practitioner and assistant professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing.

“Being on that panel with the rest of my colleagues and reviewing the protocols, gave me great insights,” he continued. “So, now I can have the conversation with you. I can have it with my family, and I can say, actually, we were represented in the trials and these are the numbers, et cetera.

Black Americans are among the groups least likely to get the vaccines even though their COVID-19 mortality rates are among the highest in the U.S., according to KFF. The report states that 34 % of Blacks across the country say they will “wait and see” if the vaccines are working on others before they take them.

“As Black health academicians, researchers, and clinicians, we understand our empathy-based responsibility to provide our community with the resources and guidance on surviving this pandemic,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, a member of BCAC. “As such, we appreciate this partnership with KFF to produce one of the largest of its kind campaigns to creatively provide trustworthy information that will save Black lives.”

In California so far, there have been 54,128 COVID-19 deaths as of March 7. Across the state, there have been about 3.8 million confirmed cases with about 1.2 million of them registered in Los Angeles County alone.

Dr. Pamela Simms-Mackey is chair of Pediatrics and Chief of Graduate Medical Education at Alameda Health System in Oakland. She says much of her work has been centered around promoting equity and reducing health disparities for African Americans and other minorities who have been underserved.

“When people in their minds think of side effects, they think of something that happens that is not supposed to happen,” she said. “Soreness at the injection site, headaches, fever, a swollen lymph node. Those are vaccine-anticipated reactions. That shows your body is reacting to the vaccines. Those are good signs. You want to see that. That shows that the vaccine is working in your body.”

Dr. Rhea Boyd, a physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Chief Medical Officer of San Diego 211, a community health organization, says she believes roadblocks that prevent African Americans from getting COVID-19 vaccines have little to do with hesitancy.

“The barriers are accessible facts about the COVID-19 vaccines and convenient access to receive a vaccine,” said Boyd. She co-developed the project with KFF and the Black Coalition Against COVID.

“This is a comprehensive effort on behalf of Black health care workers across the country,” she said.

To watch the video, visit Greaterthancovid.org


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