by Esther Bush
With the new year comes new beginnings, but, for many, especially those in the African American community, 2021 brings with it many feelings of uncertainty. As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, people have questions, and a palpable hesitancy can be felt in every corner and neighborhood because of stinging reminders of the past.
This hesitancy and mistrust, at least where the African American community is concerned, stems from years of medical abuse. Well-known examples are the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, where African American men were given no effective care for syphilis so that researchers could track the progression of the disease; the controversial and unethical experiments performed on enslaved African American women by James Marion Sims; and the case of Henrietta Lacks, who passed away from cervical cancer in the 1950s but not before her cells were taken and used for biomedical research without her knowledge or consent. Systemic racism continues to be a barrier to medical care and involvement in research studies for people of color.
The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh has been a partner of the Community Vaccine Collaborative since this collaborative began in July 2020—first, to increase participation of diverse individuals in vaccine trials and, more recently, to ensure equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. This collaborative has enabled us the opportunity to speak with researchers and connect them with community partners to strengthen communication about the vaccines. The collaborative is currently conducting a survey on how the African American population feels about the vaccines and our overall sense of the trustworthiness of vaccine-related information. Dr. Maya Ragavan, a researcher with the collaborative, has taken steps to dig deeper and discover what people are really thinking about the vaccine and how members of the African American and Latinx communities are getting their Covid-19 information. In partnership with the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh’s Health Advocacy Program, the collaborative created a 15-20 minute survey.
To participate in this survey, you must identify as a member of the Black or Latino communities (Black, African American, African, Latino, Latina, Latinx or Hispanic), live in or within 50 miles of Pittsburgh, be 18 years old or older and be able to complete the survey in English or Spanish. If you would like to take the survey or have any questions, please email Maya Ragavan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call or text 412-944-4219. Each survey respondent will receive a gift card for participating.
The coronavirus continues to disproportionately affect the African American population. Black people have some of the highest death rates and have more risk factors for poor outcomes. Deciding to not get the vaccine and protect yourselves and loved ones from the disease could have dire consequences. For years, this “Take Charge of Your Health” series has empowered, inspired and urged you to take charge of your health. Now, more than ever, it is vitally important that you do so. With all matters of heart, mind and body, I always advise my friends and family to educate themselves. Be an advocate for yourself. Make an informed decision on what the best choice is for you and your loved ones.
Take charge of your health, dear reader. I hope that the new year is one of good health and prosperity for you and for those you hold close to your heart.
Esther L. Bush, President and CEO
Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh