Despite the ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19, there exists one prominent and politically significant hindrance to this objective: vaccine hesitancy. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s recent data, approximately 72 percent of American adults have received at least one dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Among those vaccinated whose race is known, 58 percent are white and 10 percent are Black.
Distrust of the medical industry may be one reason that Black Americans lag behind. This distrust arises largely from experimentations done on slaves, typically without anesthesia, and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, in which 399 Black men were infected and monitored without treatment from 1932 to 1972. These significant events have had a trickle-down effect, with horrific stories and negative attitudes toward medicine passed down through generations.
But distrust of the medical community could prove to be the downfall for many, keeping Black Americans from achieving success by cutting short their opportunities because of illness and even death. Armed with the right information, Black Americans can be liberated from the past that has caused their distrust in medicine.
In a recent interview, Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla told me he’s on a mission to educate Black Americans about the COVID-19 vaccine. What he finds most compelling about their hesitancy is the pull between fear of the vaccine and love for one’s family and friends: “Fear is a strong emotion,” he said. “There is only one thing in the human soul that is stronger than fear: love. I would say, think about the people you love and that will give you the strength to overcome your fear.”
Love and fear are indeed strong emotions, often at odds with one another. Without love — whether it be for another, for your country, or something else entirely — fear will overcome the mind. But when love is at an arm’s length, the power of that love enables you to do anything possible in its pursuit. A father would gladly die for his children, for example; a serviceman will rush into battle for his country. And Dr. Bourla and I hope a person will take the vaccine to protect their loved ones and others around them.
If love isn’t enough to persuade you to get vaccinated — whether it be the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shot — consider the science behind it as well. Before Pfizer received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it had administered more than 1 billion doses of the vaccine, according to Dr. Bourla. “There has been no medicine (or even a product) that has been used by as many people in the history of humanity,” he said. “We know very well what the efficacy is, and very well what is the safety of the vaccine, with no error, because the numbers are so big.” Moderna, too, is seeking full FDA approval of its vaccine.
According to Dr. Bourla, Black Americans have nearly three times the chance of being hospitalized and twice the chance of dying from COVID-19, compared to white Americans. In fact, Pfizer “tried to make sure that in clinical trials [we] had a good representation of minorities in the population of the study,” reflective of the country’s demographics, he said. The biological effect of the vaccine is the same in all races, he emphasized.
Dr. Bourla sees today’s pandemic as largely one of the unvaccinated — and this appears to be true. Studies show the vaccine offers strong protection against the virus, even though there have been breakthrough cases of infection and the Delta strain has caused the vaccine’s effectiveness to decrease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unvaccinated Americans are approximately 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who are vaccinated. Of course, no vaccine is 100 percent effective, but that should not deter anyone from getting vaccinated. Often the benefits of taking medicine significantly outweigh the risks. One need not look any further than the flu vaccine — although some people who get the flu shot do end up getting the flu, many of us welcome the chance to get the shot each year because we know how horrible it can be to get sick with the flu.
Everyone has a choice — if you do not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine, that is your right, of course. But not every choice simply affects a person on an individual level; our choices can affect others. The data behind the COVID-19 vaccine are unmatched. Among the 5 billion people worldwide who have been vaccinated, more than 364 million doses have been given in the United States and the daily vaccination rate is said to be rising among Americans. Let’s hope a higher rate of Black Americans are among those who choose to get the vaccine.
You need not follow the crowd, but follow your heart in making this decision. Follow the advice of professionals, and think hard about what is important to you.
Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”