In Kentucky, and across the nation, Black Americans are being urged to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
Baptist Health in a recent blog reported a study released by the COVID Collaborative, NAACP and UnidosUS found only 14 percent of Black Americans trust a vaccine will be safe and just 18 percent trust it will be effective.
Additionally, a December 2020 poll from the Pew Research Center found that while 71 percent of Black respondents knew someone who had been hospitalized or died from COVID-19, fewer than half of Black Americans polled said they would get the vaccine.
Dr. Andrea Watson of the Baptist Health Hardin Medical Group said per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is evidence that there is an increased risk for some minority and ethnic groups of contracting and dying from the COVID-19 virus.
“That is a known fact. So, we definitely want to get this vaccine into as many hands as we possibly can,” she said.
Watson said misinformation plays a big part in mistrust of the vaccine, especially Black Americans.
“Misinformation may come from various social media outlets or a family friend or a neighbor that believes one thing about the vaccine that may not be entirely true,” she said.
Watson said this is where the health care provider comes in and should get some hard, true facts out there. She said the vaccine is safe and can protect against COVID-19 and the complications that come with the virus.
“We’re trying to save lives here. That is not going to happen if we don’t get control COVID-19,” Watson said.
Watson, 42, who is Black, has experienced the virus first-hand. She initially was scheduled to get her first dose of the vaccine at the beginning of January, however, two days before her scheduled vaccination appointment she was diagnosed with COVID-19.
She lost her taste and smell and had multiple other symptoms, such as joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue and brain fog. When she was diagnosed, Watson said she figured, since she was a healthy individual, she would recover in 10 days and go back to work.
“That didn’t happen for me. I had post complications with COVID-19,” she said. Watson developed a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the lung. She also developed pneumonia, shortness of air, and chest pain that lasted for weeks.
Watson said young, healthy people often think it’s a quick recovery. It may not always happen like that.
“I know it didn’t for me,” she said. “If I can spread the word to make sure that the vaccine is given without hesitation with the majority of people I come in contact with then I am going to keep spreading that word. The vaccine will save lives no doubt. And my story is not the worst. The worst is death. I consider myself so fortunate to be alive. … You can never be too healthy to get a vaccine.”
Now back at work, Watson said she still is recovering and sometimes experiences shortness of breath or chest pain.
“The last thing I want anybody to tell me is that COVID isn’t real or it only affects elderly people, or only affects certain minority or ethnic groups, anyone can be affected,” she said.
That’s why it’s important for everyone to get the vaccine, she said. Having more people vaccinated will lead to herd or community immunity – a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease to make it spread from person to person unlikely, according to the CDC.
Dr. Matthew Stiles, Baptist Health Hardin Medical Group medical director, said most people who have hesitation about getting the vaccine are hesitating about themselves. He said the concept of taking the vaccine in order to protect others is a little understated. He said that goes with the idea of community immunity. He said if unprotected individuals are surrounded by protected individuals it can make it difficult for the virus to get to the vulnerable person.
Stiles compared people getting the vaccines to superheroes and the COVID virus to alien invaders.
“We, as a species, if we are going to survive this alien invasion, we’re going to want to surround ourselves by as many superheroes as we can,” he said. “If we can get people to see it that we are protecting each other and we are protecting those vulnerable people who aren’t maybe able to take the vaccine because of circumstances … We’re doing our part to be that superhero to our loved ones, our grandmothers, our mothers, our family members.”
To get to community immunity, Stiles said roughly 70 percent of the population needs to be immune.
“It’s just a way for us to show our concern, our compassion, our love for our neighbors as well as our friends and the community at large,” he said.