By Karen Stokes
“Making it Plain, What Black America Needs to Know About COVID-19 and Vaccines,” is part of a series of virtual town hall conversations that connect a historic coalition of primarily Black led health, faith, academic, civil and social organizations with the nation’s top COVID-19 experts addressing questions and concerns as the community works to protect Black lives together.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institutes of Health, Dr. Valerie Montgomery, Rice Morehouse School of Medicine, and Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, National Institutes of Health are just a few of the experts involved in the town hall.
As COVID-19 rages on, over 381,000 Americans have died and 129,748 are hospitalized as brave hospital workers provide care.
“We are in a very difficult period right now, we are in an incline of cases that unfortunately are more than we’ve seen in any period of the outbreak,” Fauci said. “Unfortunately, African Americans continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the infections compared to the demographic distribution in society as well as the severity of infections, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19.”
Corbett, the scientific lead for the government’s search for a coronavirus vaccine, answered the important question of what’s in the vaccine.
“The two current vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use are Pfizer and Moderna, both of them are messenger RNA vaccines. The reason why you likely heard about some nanotechnology is that it delivers the messenger RNA which is simply just a piece of genetic code from coronavirus. It is only encompassing the spiked proteins in order to safely distribute this throughout the body and send it. It’s packaged in lipid, a very small ball of fat that is wrapped around the messenger RNA, that is simply the totality of the vaccine.”
Other substances that people have been concerned about are carcinogens, mercury or human cells. None of those are in the vaccine.
Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discussed the process of approving the vaccine.
“FDA uses a rigorous process, we follow the science, we look through the information that is provided, the quality measures, we take pride in this,” Marks said. “The process is done by a diverse group of scientists that bring a lot of expertise, they come together and come up with an integrated review. They wouldn’t approve anything that they wouldn’t put in their own arm.”
Marks continued, “We’ve been regulating vaccines for over 100 years, how safe they are and make sure there are plans in place to monitor any problems that would come up with the vaccine in the future.”
Marks says 10% of the clinical trial for both Pfizer and Moderna were Black. Pregnant women were also participants of the trial.
For pregnant women Marks suggested that pregnant women who want the vaccine should discuss the benefits and risks with their providers. COVID-19 to a pregnant woman is significant. Hundreds of pregnant women have decided to get vaccinated and hundreds of pregnant health care workers have been vaccinated.
As far as children, Marks said they still don’t have data on children under 16. They can’t recommend giving the vaccine to children until they get more data.
“We expect side effects,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “In the clinical trial we did see people with sore arms and fatigue, some people even had a fever. The side effects were mild and only lasted a day or two. Some people have a higher risk of allergic reaction, the good news is these severe reactions are treatable.
The CDC said the provider will watch an individual 30 minutes after the vaccination.
Messonnier believes by June the vast amount of people will be vaccinated but some question if the immunity will run out.
“Follow the science, the science right now doesn’t tell how long immunity from the vaccination will last. We’re going to follow the people who were vaccinated in the long term at some point we may have to give booster shots but at this point we don’t know yet.” Messonnier said.
The Black community is concerned with America’s history of racism in medical research. Black community organizations can lead the way to bring messages and information that can help the community make informed decisions.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith a member of The Biden-Harris Health Equity Task Force understands that people in the Black community are distrustful of government agencies.
“President-elect Biden has said people of color have not been treated in history with respect,” Nunez-Smith said. “Rebuilding the trust is to listen to what the people are saying.”
“To build trust will take time and needs to be shown with action, deliver results and change how things are done,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, chair COVID-19 Task Force, said.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel as we get vaccines rolled out and implemented. Month after month we will get back to some form of normality. In the meantime, you must protect yourself by adhering to the public health measures of wearing masks, physical distancing, avoiding crowds and hand washing. It will end, it will not go on forever,” Fauci said.