Dozens of Baltimore residents stopped by the downtown MIX Church on Thursday to ask their most urgent questions about the COVID-19 vaccine from the city’s religious leaders, health officials and the actor and activist Hill Harper.
Harper, known for his television roles in The good doctor and CSI: New York led these kinds of conversations across the country to build confidence in immunization. He told WYPR that this “fireside chat” – with an all-black panel and an almost all-black audience – was “really refreshing.”
“The public didn’t feel like they had to censor themselves,” he said. “Often across the country, the public feels stigmatized. “
A member of the public asked how it was possible that the vaccine could be released so quickly.
City health commissioner Dr Letitia Dzirasa replied that scientists had been working on the technology behind the vaccine for years.
But that prompted other questions: Like how did scientists know they had to do this for years? Did the government plan this pandemic to kill black people?
Dzirasa explained that scientists were prepared because the COVID-19 virus belongs to a family of other viruses that spread before the pandemic, such as SARS and MERS.
“I don’t know if they knew this specific virus was coming. But the government is constantly researching viruses and understanding how we can prevent them or stop the spread, ”she said.
She also pointed out that while black residents have been more vulnerable to the virus due to various “social conditions,” the virus itself does not discriminate.
Reverend Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP, spoke of the distrust people of color may have in government.
“Regardless of what white people, government or health institutions have done to betray our trust, we still have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children, and to our ancestors who brought us here, to find how to continue to live. noted.
The Reverend said that although he is fully vaccinated, he describes himself as “hesitant about the vaccine” as he still has questions about how it will affect him in the long term.
He told the story of his own uncertainty when getting the vaccine.
“I was in the chair getting my first injection and I thought, I turned my head to say to the nurse, ‘Wait! “But the needle was already in,” Little said. “But I’ll tell you, I’m glad I was vaccinated. I don’t know what will happen in three years. But I am convinced that I will not die of COVID this year. “
Another person asked how the vaccine could be safe and approved for pregnant women when the vaccine has not been approved for babies and children under 12.
“A pregnant woman has a fully developed adult immune system and her body protects the child in her womb,” Little said. “Once the children come out of the womb, they are on their own. “
Dr Kendra McDow, chief medical officer for Baltimore, said children under 12 were part of clinical trials. McDow said clinical trials use volunteers, and most of the time, those volunteers aren’t children or pregnant women.
“We want to study the vaccine in children, we want to make sure it’s safe, we want to make sure it’s effective,” she said.
The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children 12 years of age and older.
Marcus England, pastor of the MIX Church, said he had overseen several funerals for COVID-19 victims. He also contracted COVID before getting the vaccine.
“One thing I do know is when it hits it hits hard. It can feel like a long way off if you don’t have people around you who have been affected and have gone through the process,” England said. . “I know people in our church today who don’t breathe the same way.”
Robert Cort, director of sales and operations at Five Medicine, a black-led vaccine supplier in partnership with the city’s health department, described his own experience with COVID.
“And I would never wish that on anyone,” he said. “I mean to this day I still have breathing problems. I have workers … I mean before they got vaccinated some of them had COVID, I have one that ‘she can’t taste to date.
Five Medicine set up their mobile clinic outside of the event, but no one stopped. Cort said he hopes in the future, residents of Black Baltimore will be encouraged when they see vaccine vendors that look like them.
He addressed the myths about a “black vaccine” intended for blacks, claiming that such a thing did not exist.
“There are companies like me, our companies, that are there to make sure that you are vaccinated,” Cort said. “We do not exchange vials. We are the ones knocking on doors and we say that we are there for you.
Hill Harper urged the people of Baltimore to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
“Be responsible to yourself and to those next to you and to your left and right, and to your families or friends. Viruses need a host. And the easiest way for them to find hosts is in unvaccinated people, ”he said.