We are about to hit the high point of the holiday season, and the Black Coalition Against COVID (BCAC) wants to ensure Black communities stay healthy and vibrant this year.
“This pandemic is not over and our collective responsibility to protect and preserve the health of our community, especially our seniors and the vulnerable among us, is not over, either,” said Dr. Reed Tuckson, the co-founder of BCAC, during an online town hall last week, “Making It Plain: COVID and the Holidays.”
The town hall hosted leading health experts in the United States and gave health workers a chance to better understand how they help their patients and community partners stay healthy during the first holiday season we have had out of full or partial lockdown.
While the event covered a wide variety of points, not surprisingly, vaccinations and booster shots were the main focus. “Obviously, we’re in a much better place with COVID than where we were last fall and winter, certainly where we were two years ago,” explained Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, during the event. “And it is tempting to say, ‘Well, COVID is over. Let’s move on.’ A promise: it’s not over.”
Unfortunately, vaccination among Black, Indigenous, and communities of color is still low. Dr. Jha said. “Thirty percent of seniors over 65 have gotten the new vaccine, meaning 70% have not. But when you look at that number a bit more closely, what you see is that, while about 1 in 3 seniors who are white have gotten the vaccine, among Black seniors, that number is more like 1 in 6. … This to me is very, very concerning and it is something we have to address right away.”
His comments pointed out the need for such town halls, and as the event continued, a key tool for reaching out to friends and family also came to the fore: love.
Acts of Love
The town hall got to the heart of matters when it highlighted a video by GetVaccineAnswers.org about a conversation between two brothers on why they should each get vaccinated.
One brother, Amir, when talking to his brother, Wesley (who did not want to get vaccinated), said, “I want you to get the vaccine because I care. I want you to be safe.” Choking up, he continued, “If you were to die, man. … that would literally kill me, man.”
“Well,” Wesley responded, “If that’s how you feel, then I’ll go get vaccinated.”
The segment was unequivocally about the importance of love and vulnerability during the tough conversations around vaccinations, especially in a community where misinformation has been sown in a malicious fashion. “There was a lot of concern about the safety of the COVID vaccine. And a corollary to that, of course, was the misinformation that we saw,” said physician and health educator Dr. Melissa Clarke earlier in the event. “But we’ve learned that the vaccines are safe, that they can certainly prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19—hospitalization and death—and that the latest boosters can provide people with an extra measure of protection.”
It is not just COVID that has experts worried this holiday season. With the dropping of mask mandates, influenza is on the rise, as well as another common respiratory infection: respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). That is why it is important not only to get vaccinated but also, if you are exhibiting symptoms, to get tested.
“Only by being tested can you know whether you have RSV or influenza or COVID, because there’s so much overlap in the symptoms,” explained Dr. Barbara Mahon, the acting director of the proposed Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “And it’s very important to be tested because there is a prescription antiviral treatment that can help greatly with influenza and with COVID, especially for people who are in high-risk groups. But that has to be diagnosed early for those medications to be as effective as possible in helping keep people out of the hospital.”
Ultimately, the town hall spoke to the short- and long-term steps taken by Black community leaders to help their neighbors, friends, and family thrive. By developing resources and creating community among healthcare professionals, organizations like the Black Coalition Against COVID and others are changing the game regarding community health in populations of color.