by Tolani Ajagbe, MD Medical Director, Addiction Treatment Services, Chief of Psychiatry Crouse Health
As a minority person at Crouse Health, I have been inspired by the efforts of hospital leadership to advance issues related to diversity and inclusion. I’ve been particularly encouraged by efforts made to ensure all eligible Crouse employees and members of the medical staff who want the vaccine, are able to get the vaccine.
However, from conversations I have had with some of my co-workers and friends who are persons of color, many still harbor reservations about the pandemic and vaccination. The underlying issue seems to be based around a lack of trust in the system. References have been made about past vaccine development efforts where minorities and less privileged people were used as “human guinea pigs” for vaccine trials, later developing serious complications. There are also discussions about the disparities in the basic social determinants of health (housing, income, access to affordable, quality health care, etc), leading to the disproportionate number of COVID cases and deaths among individuals of color, especially Black Americans. A recent Associated Press article about racial disparity seen in US vaccination efforts also referenced a lack of trust in who is administering the vaccine and where it is being administered. People expressed a preference to be vaccinated by their own doctors in their local clinics.
While these are deep-rooted and legitimate issues that demand ongoing conversations and solutions, this current pandemic is an emergency public health crisis that demands a concerted effort by all of us, together, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, or other identities. This may be the generational moment of our lifetime that requires we all come together, trust one another and do the right thing. There are legitimate issues to debate relating to equity, fairness and justice, and those important conversations should continue. However, this pandemic is a devastating, generational threat that requires time-sensitive, focused efforts by every one of us to defeat it.
For those who are worried about any immediate or future complications from this vaccine, I will report to you that IT IS SAFE. I was one of the people who wanted to wait a few weeks or months before taking it, but I changed my mind after doing a thorough review of the vaccine development and early approval process. I came to the conclusion that the immediate and future complications that can come from getting infected with the virus are much greater than any risks that can come from the vaccine. While we continue to take all the precautions and follow CDC guidelines of handwashing, wearing masks, and social distancing, they do not guarantee absolute protection. Getting vaccinated brings us much closer to 100% protection.
On a personal note, I already received both vaccines with minimal discomfort. The only symptom I had was some soreness at the injection site for both vaccines. I remain anxious about the delay in vaccine development for children below the age of 16. I am the parent of a child under 16, and I can’t wait for her to get vaccinated. My elderly mother is also anxiously waiting to be vaccinated in New Jersey once allowed to do so. I will strongly encourage everyone and their loved ones to also get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them. I believe it is our duty as healthcare workers to educate ourselves about the vaccine so that we can further educate our friends and loved ones.
While I strongly believe that herd immunity should be our ultimate goal, I will encourage you to focus on the immediate personal protection the vaccine provides for you and your loved ones. The benefit of herd immunity will come later, when most of us get vaccinated so that we can return to a semblance of normalcy at some point in the future. This pandemic is not going away any time soon, especially now that there are different variants of the virus springing up all over the world and showing up in the US a few days later. We all have a better chance of overcoming this pandemic if we come together to fight with every tool at our disposal, starting with the vaccine.