Phyllis Kimber Wilcox | BVN Staff
A few weeks ago on a beautiful spring day, I found myself having a socially distanced conversation with a man at a bus stop.
We talked about the weather and somehow the conversation moved on to food and a restaurant I heard good things about. That led us to talk about how good it will be when things get back to normal.
My companion, a Black man in late middle age, suddenly launched into a heartfelt pitch for COVID-19 vaccinations. “You got to make an appointment to get your shot, “ he exhorted. “I got mine and I go where I want to go. I still do everything else I’m supposed to do,” he qualified. “I socially distance, I wash my hands …you gotta take care of yourself, ” he advised with apparent sincerity.
I nodded my head in agreement as our bus pulled up to the curb and we climbed aboard.
There is a great desire for things to get back to “normal” although that “normal” wasn’t so great for quite a few of us. As of this writing, May 1, 2021, five hundred and seventy six thousand people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, and there’s nearly 3.2 million deaths worldwide. So, maybe the desire isn’t so much for the way things were, but more a desire for one less thing to worry about, one less, very important and possibly lethal thing.
It seems everyone is talking
I was taking the trash out recently when I heard two of my neighbors, young, apparently healthy Black men, greeting each other in passing in the passageway.
“Hey man, you gonna get that shot?”
“Yeah man, I got one already. I’m just waiting to get the second one.”
They both chuckled nervously, shaking their heads, going their separate ways.
Rain or shine, day or night, these conversations are going on around us everywhere.
The decision of whether to get the vaccine is important and consequential. How are people making it?
There is so much to consider
With the historic and well-founded mistrust some in the Black community have for the medical field, what information do we use to help make decisions about getting vaccinated? How do we take care of ourselves in this time of COVID? Should we get the shot or not? And if we decide to take the shot, when should we do it?
Those who took the shot and why
I interviewed several people about the shot, their decision to get it or not, and what helped them choose their path.
I spoke with a woman we’ll call Faith (a pseudonym). She is a resident of Beaumont who was diagnosed with Cancer and who just previous to her diagnosis, survived COVID-19.
I asked what was the turning point for her? What made her decide to get the vaccine knowing she had pre existing medical conditions and that the information for people with these conditions is and continues to be mixed?
“I had the Moderna shot and the turning point was I already had COVID and I had cancer,” she declared. So, that’s pretty much it. [I figured] the shot could not be worse than having actual virus, and it wasn’t.”
When I asked if she got it because she did not want to risk getting COVID again? She replied, “I know I can get it again, but I just…I don’t know what a second round of COVID would do to me, especially since my immune system is compromised because of the chemotherapy. I just felt if I could get a shot that would keep me from going into the hospital [that’s what I wanted, and that’s what I did.”
There’s been conflicting information about people with compromised immune systems and the vaccine. In the beginning, we were told people these people should not take the shot. Even now there is conflicting information on how effective it is for them, I shared.
Faith paused, then said, “I had cancer and COVID at the same time. I took the shot, hopefully it works, I don’t feel like I lost anything.”
She was clear however, it was not the advice of medical professionals who helped convince her to get vaccinated.
“Basically,” said Faith, “when you go in to have chemo every day there’s a sign with a checklist of symptoms . . . Do you have this, this, this and this? I let them put a controlled poison in my body [and by comparison] I felt like a shot, wasn’t a big deal.”
According to the CDC, people with weakened and compromised immune systems might be at risk for the most severe forms of COVD-19, but there’s no information available about the safety of vaccines for this group of individuals although people with HIV have been included in clinical trials.
Sandra Davis, is a resident of Riverside County, and a woman with several underlying health conditions including an autoimmune disease was asked how she went about making the decision of whether to get the vaccine, and of the information she received, what she found most useful.
“My decision was based solely on my underlying medical conditions,” she responded. “They vary and there are many. Now, I did my research in addition to talking to doctors because I must admit, initially I wasn’t necessarily feeling getting the vaccine–that was strictly from a statistical Black injection place,” she offered before adding, “That’s the best way I can put it. I didn’t have much faith in the fact that it was going to be what it was intended to be.”
Sandra said she continued to listen and do research. “I realized that it was a greater advantage to getting it than not.I didn’t feel necessarily that it would stop me from getting anything, But, I felt if I did, it would assist me and help me survive.”
She consulted with her primary care physician, her oncologist, and her other healthcare specialists to learn their opinions. “And, right off the bat, each told me to get the vaccine, so I did.”
When Sandra finally got to the point where she was going to take the shot she confessed, “I must admit a lot of it had to do with prayer and I have to say, positive thinking. I knew it would be alright. That’s what helped me”
When walking in the door to get that first injection, Sandra admitted she was concerned because the vaccine was about to become a reality for her. “It was no longer [somewhere] down the line, and once they put it in my body, what’s going to happen, [I wondered].”
After receiving the first shot Sandra was relieved. The only thing she experienced was soreness at the injection site.
We spoke further about the vaccine and the different venues where one can choose to be vaccinated. She preferred a traditional medical setting over the non-traditional offerings. “Too many stories about problems at some of the other sites,” she said.
The women were asked if they were aware the vaccines are only supposed to last six months and whether they were informed of this when they were vaccinated? Both responded, no, they were not told about this, although Faith had read about it before she went to get the shot. Neither of them seemed concerned about the possibility.
Rose is hesitant
Rose, a resident of Hemet, has decided not to get the vaccine, at least for now. “I’m like a lot of people. I don’t even believe in getting the flu shot,” she declared when asked.
“I’ve worked in the[healthcare] industry, where I’ve seen hundreds of people get sick from taking the flu vaccination year after year after year. It just wasn’t working for me to take it. Now, with this. . . the shot for COVID . . . especially with it not being one hundred percent,” she explained as she further acknowledged the same scepticism she has for flu shots.
When discussing the vaccines’ effectiveness rates and their length of protection she opined, “That’s another issue. It’s only good for six months which means you have to go back and get it again.”
She was further put off by the number of people experiencing side effects without clear explanations regarding why.
“Now, don’t get me wrong,” she continued.” Everything has side effects, but to me [the COVID vaccine] is no different if you can go out there and have the vaccine and still get COVID. Then, what’s the purpose of it,” she asked rhetorically? “I just don’t believe . . . I just don’t understand the purpose of it. It doesn’t make sense.”
Black people and the flu
Rose isn’t an outlier. According to the CDC, Black people and other people of color have the highest rate of hospitalizations caused by the regular flu as well as the lowest vaccination rates. This appears to be like everything else, tied to socio-economic status. In other words, whether or not they are low income as well as the type of work they do and the environmental conditions under which they live.
Black people makeup 6.5 percent of California’s population and only about three percent of those currently vaccinated for COVID-19.
Blacks and the COVID vaccine
Rose isn’t the only one not getting “that shot.” Besides those who haven’t gotten vaccinated, almost half the adults in this country, as of this writing, more than five million people who received the first Pfizer and Moderna shots have decided to skip the second one for now.
We will explore in more detail the reasons behind this vaccine hesitancy in the next article in this series.
We all have a lot on our plates. We are also on a new path with no signposts. Maybe the best we can do is follow Faith’s advice, “I keep track of the information … everything has side effects, even food.. I just do it and hope for the best… that’s how I live my life now. I just make a decision and hope for the best and I don’t look back at my decisions.”
When speaking about what others should do she stated ” It’s everybody’s personal choice. I’m not going to force anyone to do what they’re not comfortable doing. It’s up to everybody to do what they want to do.”
It looks like we may be headed toward a society bifurcated by the vaccinated and those who are not. What that looks like should be shaped by all who will be impacted by this new fracture.
As noted, the future is in front of us with no sign posts ahead and Faith’s wisdom sounds a lot like truth.
Phyllis Kimber-Wilcox is a student and history buff— a grandmother, a parent, a sister, an aunt and lover of people, animals, plants, and the planet.