NAACP Virtual Town Hall Panel Shares Updates on COVID-19 Vaccines, and Protecting Black Community

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By Aziza Nussipov

WASHINGTON D.C. – The NAACP held a live streamed meeting late last week, part of its “COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall Series,” during which a handful of experts came together to discuss and share valuable information about COVID-19, the safety of the novel vaccines, and protecting the Black community.

The meeting featured Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP; Deborah Roberts, from ABC News; Dr. Reed Tuckson, founder of the Black coalition against COVID-19; Dr. Cameron Web, a policy advisor for equity for the White House COVID-19 response team; and Dr. Chris Pernell, a public health physician.

Roberts, who was the moderator of the evening, started the discussion by asking Dr. Webb what his biggest concern was when it came to defeating the virus.

“Equity,” Dr. Webb said, “…we won’t crush this pandemic without equity.”

Dr. Tuckson weighed in as well, adding, “I think that we are in a terribly important race to the finish line here. We really do have a challenge about whether or not we will get enough people vaccinated in time for the vaccines to be able to work and not have the mutations take over.”

He continued, “And the other thing I worry about is whether or not in this particular moment, people will get lazy, and stop wearing masks, stop doing physical distancing…This is the moment to double down. If we do not, I am terribly afraid the variants will take over.”

Dr. Pernell cited “cultural humility and empathy because in order for us to achieve equitable outcomes around vaccination…we’re going to have to be able to understand where people are coming from. We’re going to have to speak in cultural and socially fluent terms.”

She listed examples “that starts with acknowledging histories, that starts with acknowledging present day disparities, and that starts with acknowledging humanity and we can’t lose sight of that especially as people are growing fatigued.”

Roberts then asked the panel, “Give us a breakdown about the difference between these different vaccines.”

Dr. Webb explained, “Both of [the available vaccines] are very effective. Pfizer is 95 percent effective, and Moderna is 94 percent effective…They’re effective at preventing death and severe illness and requiring hospitalization…that’s where we’ve seen the disproportionate impact of COVID on communities. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is very good at preventing death…it does exactly what we want it to do.”

“Sixty-six percent effective compared to the others,” Roberts asked, “Should that concern people?”

“That number you’re hearing is just about folks having any amount of symptomatic illness but if our goal is to prevent people from dying and prevent people from having severe illness, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine does that very well,” Dr. Webb replied.

Roberts moved the conversation along, asking Dr. Purnell, “[C]ommunities of color have some reservations sometimes…How can we feel they’re really safe if they were manufactured so quickly?”

She explained, “Yes, this looks like it moved very quickly…[but] we’re talking about a different science…the science in and of itself moves quicker… and it wasn’t just discovered. We’re building upon a decade’s work of research—especially the critical breakthroughs in the last decade.

“We have to be able to diffuse the collective trauma that historical injustices have caused especially in Black and brown communities. We’re talking about communities who have been saddled with exploitation…if we speak that truth in an empathetic way…I think people will begin to understand the choice they’re facing.”

Dr. Tuckson also noted that “the review process was also very thorough and that there are African American physicians who are on the committees that are reviewing these vaccines…There are two African Americans at least who are leaders on that team…so we have our people who are trusted voices on that.

“We’ve got to learn how to help our seniors and our people navigate the internet connectivities and be able to participate in the registration process more effectively. The reason we’re seeing privileged people jumping the line is because they [have] internet connectivity and better skills to ‘play the game.’ That’s unfortunate.

“Meanwhile, I am very encouraged by the Biden-Harris Administration’s interest in community-based organizations as a mechanism of following up…we know that the CBOs and faith-based organizations are standing ready to be direct sites to provide the vaccine or to be able to facilitate connectivity for their members with other sites…The Biden-Harris Administration looks to be sending money to support community-based organizations in implementing either of those two pathways,” Dr. Tuckson added.

Roberts asked, “Were people of color included in the testing? Was that taken into consideration?”

Dr. Purnell stated, “I participated in a Moderna COVID vaccine trial…[People of color] were represented in the process to arrive at the solution.

“The Black Coalition Against COVID comprises four historically Black medical schools, National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association- those institutions have been a part of the process of doing the clinical trials. We have been engaged. Black scientists, Black academic leaders, Black institutions have been a part of this…we can make assertions with confidence that these vaccines are not only effective in our community but they are also safe,” Dr. Purnell added.

“Talk to us about [the variants],” Roberts asked.

Dr. Webb replied, “[I]f we can stop the virus from spreading, we’re decreasing the amount of opportunities to create dangerous variants.” Dr. Webb also noted that wearing masks and social distancing continues to be a priority.

A live call from the audience came in: “Do you have to stop any medication or vitamins before you take this shot?”

Dr. Pernell answered, “Don’t stop your medications…you can take your medications and you should take your medications…the one thing everyone should know is you should not premedicate with an ibuprofen or a Tylenol so that it doesn’t diminish—potentially—the body’s response to the shot…do not take something before being inoculated.”

A second question: “What are the implications for women?”

“The evidence is that even women who are pregnant are still able to take this vaccine…the mRNA vaccine…does not pose any risk to altering the genetic structure of a human being,” Dr. Tuckson stated.

Dr. Pernell added, “There were women in the trials and there were women who became pregnant incidentally so we have that data…There is no evidence to date that suggests the vaccine should [not be used] in pregnant women or breastfeeding women. This is a decision pregnant women should make with their physician.

“The reason why it is important for women to consider this vaccination is because when pregnant women are exposed and become infected from COVID, the evidence of severe outcomes is higher,” Dr. Pernell said.

Question: “As we approach the summer…do we think that we might start to…approach some normalcy?”

“If we can get good information out there, and we really show what the science tells us, what the facts are…we’re gonna get through this faster…if don’t do those things we will see different variants faster,” Dr. Webb replied. “Until we’re through this, we have to be ever vigilant.”

“Get safe and stay safe,” Purnell emphasized.

Roberts then asked, “If you get the vaccination, why do you still have to wear a mask? Does it mean it’s not effective?”

“What this vaccine is doing is keeping you from being extremely ill or dying. We are still studying to find out whether or not it’s also stopping the ability to spread the virus from one person to another…until we get to that place, we ask you to continue to wear your mask (for others),” said Dr. Purnell.

Dr. Purnell added that there was a possibility that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would have the potential to slow asymptomatic spread of the vaccine.

“We have always, as people of color, been a family…and so for those of us who are young and not yet eligible for the vaccine it is your opportunity to get involved now by helping your parents who are eligible, your grandparents who are eligible,” Dr. Tuckson said.

Then a call from the audience led to a conversation about how to talk to people who are doubting the safety of the vaccine.

Dr. Purnell explained that she tells people, “I’m not here to convince you but I’m here to walk with you hand in hand on this decision journey.” She also said that it is important to understand peoples’ stories and have cultural humility.

Misinformation has spread like wildfire during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, having informed and open conversations with the people around you in order to help them “get safe and stay safe is an important task for all of us, collectively,” Dr. Purnell said.

NAACP’s Unmasked: A COVID-19 Town Hall is a series of livestreamed panels where experts gather to make sure people stay informed about COVID-19 and can be accessed through their website, NAACP.org, or the NAACP Facebook page.

Aziza Nussipov is a junior at UC Davis majoring in Political Science. She is also a DJ for a freeform radio station, KDVS 90.3FM, and a part of the ASUCD Gender and Sexuality Commission.


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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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