By Darryl Sellers
As the shades of fall become more vibrant, the color of the season is also bringing some good signs that the United States is making progress in the fight against COVID-19. A large part of the reason is due to the Delta variant surge starting to slow down in October, leading to a declining number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, which is helping to give America’s overwhelmed hospitals some much-needed relief.
Despite the COVID-19 downturn this month, the United States reached a grim milestone in the pandemic, exceeding 700,000 COVID-19-related deaths, which means roughly one in 500 Americans have succumbed to the virus. COVID-19 is now the deadliest pandemic in American history. It’s a stark, sad portrait of what has shaken and ravaged our nation in a mere 20 months, and further heightens our country’s imperative to get the pandemic under control.
Though COVID-19 cases are currently declining overall, many communities are still facing barriers to vaccination. A September survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates an uptick in vaccinations for Black Americans, with 70% now having received at least one dose. But that increase in COVID-19 vaccinations doesn’t tell the whole story.
Vaccination rates are still lagging behind in some states in the South, including in Mississippi (which has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates) and in Louisiana, and Alabama, which both have partial vaccination rates slightly above 50%.
With high infection rates driven by the Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy in some Black communities in the South, many health care professionals, including Dr. Michele Benoit-Wilson, a trusted Black doctor with WakeMed Health in Raleigh, North Carolina, are stressing the importance of Black Americans getting vaccinated.
Another troubling trend is how COVID-19 is negatively impacting children of color. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shedding some light on these effects, which include higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death. Studies have also shown children of color are more likely to develop the sometimes deadly multi-system inflammatory syndrome.
A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cites more data from the CDC regarding how COVID-19 is impacting all children in the U.S. The report indicates that children made up around one quarter of all weekly COVID-19 cases as of Oct. 7, making it imperative to vaccinate children who are eligible.
Benoit-Wilson has shared the importance of getting her children vaccinated – it helps to mitigate their higher risk of COVID-19-related infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. She also reminded adults that they have a responsibility to get vaccinated to help keep themselves and everyone else safe and healthy, including children.
Tragic events throughout history, like the Tuskegee Experiment, have fueled mistrust and vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans. Benoit-Wilson said a key to building vaccine trust among Black Americans is to have candid conversations with your doctor. She said that’s the counsel she has daily with her patients, helping to ease their COVID-19 fears and historical concerns.
Echoing Benoit-Wilson’s message about building vaccine trust in Black communities is Gary Hines, director and producer of the Twin Cities-based inspirational group Sounds of Blackness. While he acknowledges the misgivings some Black Americans have about the vaccines and the historical medical malpractices, Hines, who got the vaccine, has a strong call-to-action for others to do the same.
Centuries of racism in the United States have been the impetus of distrust that is interwoven into the fabric of many Black communities, but there are ways for Black Americans to take control to be well informed and proactive to control COVID-19.
Knowledge is power! Be sure to get your research from credible sources, trust science, avoid misinformation and seek Black messengers you trust the most — doctors, faith-based and community organizations, and other credible Black voices.
Here is some helpful information about COVID-19.
• The vaccines are safe and effective against the virus, including the Delta variant.
• You can resume many activities you did before the pandemic if you’re fully vaccinated.
• You should practice safety measures, such as wearing a mask indoors, even if you’ve been fully vaccinated.
Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is a tough task that isn’t going to happen overnight or even in the next few months. But for Black Americans, by getting more shots into our arms and being diligent about practicing safety precautions, the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths will continue to trend downward. So, please keep your guard up! This is the way we’ll save more lives and get the pandemic under control. Remember these insightful words from Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” And together, “We Can Do This!” Together, “We WILL Do This!”