We entered 2021 with high hopes of beating COVID-19 and stopping the horrific loss of life in our country, which at present surpasses 416,000 deaths. Two highly effective vaccines have been developed, approved, and vaccinations have started in the United States, opening a path to ending the pandemic. Yet, in the Hispanic and Black communities, despite soaring numbers of infections and death, there is a strong skepticism of vaccines. Adding to the health crisis, six days into the new year another crisis hit our country–domestic threats to our democracy. Both crises share a quest for truth and transparency. The dual mission is to build trust in science and our government. It is a matter of life or death!
We must take actionable steps in tackling the herculean effort needed to survive and thrive under these challenging times. One actionable step is for communicators to embrace the opportunity to educate our communities on the imperative of immunization against COVID-19 and in following personal health guidelines such as washing our hands, wearing masks and social distancing. Preserving our democracy under the constitution, fighting hunger and economic recovery can only be achieved with a healthy population.
In 2019 the CDC announced that “To reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and its associated impacts on health and society, COVID-19 vaccines are essential…” The high rate of COVID-19 infection and death, particularly among Blacks and Latinos, is alarming as is the deep distrust of vaccinations. The fear and mistrust have a history rooted in past atrocities, going back to slavery and colonization. For example, the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Black Males,” was conducted on 600 Black men as an unethical natural history study conducted by the United States between 1932 and 1972.” Puerto Ricans have another backdrop for the mistrust in U.S. medical testing. One documented example “The Sterilization of Women in Puerto Rico Under the Cloak of Colonial Policy: A Case Study on the Role of Perception in U.S. Foreign Policy and Population Control.” Distrust is real and is not ancient history. The cultural impact is still evident. According to Pew Research, 71% of Blacks know someone who died of COVID-19 yet 42% say they will not get the vaccine.
The grassroots leadership of community-based organizations that have the community’s trust can play a crucial role in helping to overcome the skepticism of vaccinations. Let us act now by educating our communities as the states work out the logistical challenges of reaching mass vaccine distribution. Taking the vaccine is voluntary. We need to urgently educate, motivate, and facilitate vaccinations by activating our network now. Celebrities, healthcare workers and former presidents are vaccinating publicly. Other public, trusted individuals, such as pastors, community leaders, and city mayors have the power to lead by example as well and to share the facts with cultural sensitivity to help save lives.
Transparency is key for building trust. Let us ensure that there are no disparities to communities of color. The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), is responsible and guided by ethical principles for allocating the initial supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. The ACIP also commits to promote transparency in the decision-making process as “essential to building and maintaining public trust during vaccine program planning and implementation. The underlying principles, decision-making processes, and plans for COVID-19 vaccine allocation must be evidence-based, clear, understandable, and publicly available.”
There is no greater tribute to the healthcare and essential workers who are at the front lines fighting to save those infected with the Coronavirus than to promote vaccinations.
However, a successful mass vaccination rollout in the United States may still take months. In the interim, we can all play a role in getting the facts out to others and following personal guidelines–keep wearing your mask, wash your hands frequently, and maintain social distance. Education through grassroots outreach will help to reassure our communities of the importance of getting vaccinated and complying with indicated health guidelines.
Below you can access resources and more information on how to slow down transmission of COVID-19, while we all wait for our turn:
Let’s act together now!
Gloria Rodriguez, President and CEO, Comunicad, LLC