Chet P. Hewitt | President and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation
President Joe Biden has announced that every adult in the country will be eligible to be vaccinated by April 19, two weeks ahead of the original May 1 deadline. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 vaccines distribution eligibility expansion, California rates among Black and Brown communities continue to lag in Los Angeles County, one of the hardest-hit regions in California, and this pattern holds throughout the rest of the state. While vaccinations and vaccines acceptance has increased, hesitancy in the Black/African American community continues to be a hurdle. Black Californians are still receiving COVID vaccines at a dramatically lower rate than other demographics. The state is working hard with the media, medical providers and local community groups to educate all Californians about how critically important it is to get vaccinated.
However, decreasing vaccine hesitancy and increasing vaccine uptake among the Black/African American community is crucial to ensuring everyone is able to keep themselves, their families, friends and other loved ones safe.
The State of California is committed to providing sufficient, transparent and comprehensive information about the vaccines. Below are commonly asked questions and answers on vaccine hesitancy and distribution focused on educating, equipping and empowering the Black/African American community with information to help them understand the vaccines and make an informed decision regarding getting vaccinated.
Q: Of all the vaccinations that have been given to Californians, how many were Black/African Americans?
A: Black and African Americans currently represent 2.9 percent of Californians who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccines. California has been focused on inoculating residents of long-term care facilities and health care workers who can help vaccinate the general population. As we move into vaccinating more eligible Californians in phase two, this number will increase, but we have more work to do.
Q: Can you address the vaccines development where a Black/African American physician was involved?
A: Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett was part of the National Institute of Health team that worked with Moderna, the pharmaceutical company that developed one of the two mRNA vaccines that have been proven to be up to 95 percent effective.
This mRNA, or messenger RNA, form of vaccine helps our cells make a “spike protein” that acts to trigger an immune response in the system and does not change our DNA. The technology utilized to make these vaccines has been in development for over the past 20 years. It has also been studied for over a decade for effectiveness in influenza, Zika, rabies, and new cancer treatments.
Q: Which is the more significant barrier to Black Californians getting vaccinated: people not wanting to get vaccinated because of their concerns over vaccine safety, or the access and hesitancy barriers they face to getting vaccinated?
A: The biggest barrier for everyone is simply lack of supply. When there is a lack of supply, those who are most skilled at navigating the system will be more likely to find a way to get access. The state is working to improve access by 1) rolling out the MyTurn system (sign up or call the hotline: 1-833-422-4255) and 2) working with community based organizations to help those who don’t have access to the internet. California continues working to allocate specific blocks of appointments so that people with a history of present illnesses can have free access to the vaccines.
Q: What are the best methods to empower highly marginalized Black/African Americans to trust those making decisions and administering the vaccines?
A: We must acknowledge the mistrust and skepticism that exists between many Black/African American people and people of color with the medical community due to historic injustices. But in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, everyone can be assured it is safe and up to 95 percent effective in providing protection from the deadly virus. Testing of the vaccine was inclusive and showed positive results for all ethnicities and races.
Q: I am fearful Black/African Americans will lose their jobs if they refuse to be vaccinated. Will the vaccine be made mandatory?
A: The vaccine will be available for anyone who wants one and is free of charge. There is no state or federal mandate requiring that individuals receive the vaccine, though doctors believe it’s a very safe course of action.
Vaccinations provided by FEMA are available at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall until April 6th. Appointments are available for eligible individuals through https://myturn.ca.gov/ or by calling 833-422-4255.
For more information on COVID-19 and the vaccine’s distribution process, please visit www.covid19.ca.gov.