To date, over 77,200 Mississippians have received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but data from the Department of Health shows that just 15% of those recipients are African-American.
During a Zoom session sponsored by Jackson State, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs outlined what is behind this troubling statistic. While much of the issue stems from the obvious issue of supply and demand, another cause Adams described is the choice of many within communities of color opting not to take the vaccine.
“We have the tools to end this pandemic, but a vaccine doesn’t matter. A vaccination is what matters. We know that we have lower uptake than what we would like in all communities, but particularly in communities of color…A lot of people are focusing on supply right now, but I’m telling you, supply is not going to be the issue 2-4 weeks from now. What is the issue the now, and what will continue to be the issue, is that people aren’t getting the vaccine when they could most benefit from the vaccine,” Adams said.
The Surgeon General described the legitimate distrust in communities of color stemming from the Tuskegee experiments before detailing the safeguards in place to ensure that such a situation can never occur again. He also mentioned the inclusion of people of color in the development and distribution of the vaccine, including a high proportion in the vaccine trials.
Adams acknowledged that the term ‘Operation Warp Speed’ has led many to believe that the development of this vaccine was rushed, but he ensured that the platform for the shots has been around for over a decade. Additionally, he explained that the mRNA vaccine doesn’t have the virus in it, meaning the dose cannot give you COVID-19. The side effects seen to this point, Adams says, are no more severe than any other medication on the market.
When it comes to who can help in the effort to increase participation in these communities, Adams stated that while health officials are important, there are others that may be more influential.
“Faith leaders are critical…A lot of people, particularly in communities of color and in the South, are going to be more likely to do something because their pastor told them to do it than because their doctor tells them to do it,” he said.
While new variants of coronavirus continue to appear, ‘the Nation’s Doctor’ stated that the best way to ensure it remains that way is to get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible, which he says may be right around the corner.
“We could get every adult in this country vaccinated by June based on the projections we have now just from the Moderna & Pfizer vaccines. We could potentially move that timeline up if we get the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines out there” he said.
In Mississippi, Dr. Dobbs continued to express the importance of community outreach efforts and increasing vaccination locations in areas of need as additional doses arrive. Currently, all vaccination appointments through January are filled with the Department of Health expecting more to open in “mid-February.”
As it stands, those over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions are eligible to receive the vaccine in Mississippi.