The Crusader Newspaper Group

Please, Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

Op Ed
By Congressman Bobby Rush

It is no secret that this pandemic has devastated communities across our state — and Black and Brown communities have been hit the hardest, both in terms of lost lives and lost livelihoods.

Black Americans are almost three times as likely as white Americans to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and almost twice as likely to die from the disease. More than one in six Black workers lost their jobs when the economy collapsed last Spring. And as the pandemic dragged on, Black workers were less likely than white workers to be called back to work.

The age-old expression continues to ring true: when white America catches a cold, Black America catches pneumonia.

But with the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. These FDA-approved miracles will save countless lives and help speed our return to normal. Yet despite this good news, a recent survey found that as many as 37 percent of Black Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine. This should raise alarm bells for all of us, and it is worth exploring why we are seeing this hesitancy.

Half of the same Black Americans surveyed said one major reason they did not want to get the vaccine was that they had seen too many mistakes from the medical care system in the past. It is undeniable that Black Americans have a long history of receiving inadequate health care, issues that persist today in unacceptably high maternal mortality rates, difficulty accessing affordable care, and disproportionate health impacts from environmental racism — not to mention the dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans.

But a nationwide effort to beat a virus that has hit Black and Brown Americans hardest is a far cry from the white supremacist medical experimentation of the 20th century. Our healthcare system needs reforms and a greater focus on equity — that much is undeniable.  But we cannot let that distract or dissuade us from taking advantage of an excellent vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccines were developed by building on years of previous research on other viruses and vaccines, and they were tested thoroughly on tens of thousands of diverse participants. The clinical trial for the Pfizer vaccine involved more than 43,000 participants, 42 percent of them from communities of color. Moderna’s clinical trial included more than 30,000 participants, with 37 percent from communities of color.

The National Medical Association, the largest and oldest national organization representing Black physicians in the United States, noted that “both the percentage and number of Black people enrolled [in both clinical vaccine trials] are sufficient to have confidence in health outcomes of the clinical trials.”

We do not have all the answers yet — about COVID-19 or about the vaccine.  But we do know that many COVID-19 survivors have experienced persisting heart issues, lung damage, and even effects on the brain. Experts agree that the COVID-19 vaccine is much safer compared to the illness, and the vaccines have been found highly effective at reducing serious illness and death.

I count myself lucky and blessed to be among those Americans who have received the vaccine. But we still have a long way to go — experts agree that between 70 percent and 90 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity and ensure our communities fully heal from this disease.

That means it is on all of us to register for the vaccine as soon as we can and make sure our friends and family do the same. We can raise awareness about the effectiveness of the shot by sharing information from reputable health organizations on social media.  And we can help make sure our neighbors without computer access are able to register for a vaccine appointment.

Too many of us have lost a loved one to the virus. Others are still struggling to find steady work. We’ve all had to sacrifice a year of making cherished memories with family and friends. The end of this dreadful chapter is finally within our reach — so when it’s your turn, please don’t throw away your shot.

U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush has represented the First Congressional District of Illinois in Congress since 1993. He is the Chairman of the Energy Subcommittee on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and a member of the House Agriculture Committee. 


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