The dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine took her first shot of the coronavirus vaccine Friday morning (Dec. 18). Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice is hoping she can convince more Black people that the vaccine is safe to take, despite widespread skepticism in the African American community.
“There are Black scientists in the room where decisions are being made. There are Black scientists who are in the development of the vaccine,” Dr. Rice told CNN. She took the shot live on the cable network along with Dr. Sanjay Gupta Friday morning. “We are in the rooms where it’s happening, so we clearly are not going to go against ourselves. Because we understand how critical this is for Black America and Latinx America who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.”
Dr. Rice said there are Black scientists on the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory panel and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory board and noted that she would not encourage Black people to get the vaccination if she didn’t trust it herself.
Since the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine rolled out and were administered Monday morning (Dec. 13) to frontline healthcare workers, thousands of people who work in hospitals and clinics have been vaccinated.
Morehouse is at the forefront of efforts to communicate with the Black community about the coronavirus vaccine. Prominent health professionals from top national infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci to nurses in community hospitals are encouraging better interaction and understanding with African Americans about the vaccine.
In October, the Morehouse School of Medicine received a $1 million award from the National Institutes of Health for coronavirus pandemic outreach aimed at addressing mistrust, misinformation and inaccuracies concerning coronavirus and the vaccines. The school is currently recruiting people of color to participate in Novavax vaccine clinical trials, CNN reports.
“We want to be that source of information that people can rely on and know that we are going to do our very best by them in order for us to all get out of this pandemic,” said Lilly Immergluck, said principal investigator for the Covid vaccine study at Morehouse.
Fighting Against Mistrust
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released earlier this week showed that 35% of African Americans would probably or definitely not get the vaccine, even if it were deemed safe by scientists and offered for free. Many remain skeptical because of the difficult history between Blacks and medical scientists, particularly citing the Tuskegee Experiment in which a group of Black men who had syphilis were deliberately not treated over the course of decades.
Understanding that history, but attempting to combat the mistrust, 50 pastors from the Choose Healthy Life Black Clergy Action Plan, held a Zoom meeting with Fauci, along with the CDC and infectious disease expert Dr. Thomas Frieden to discuss the vaccine and the Black community.
Rev. Al Sharpton, who serves as co-chair said institutions like the Black church have a particular responsibility in engaging the community about the rollout of the vaccine.
“As religious leaders, it is our duty to advocate for the health and survival of our community, provide our congregations with accurate information and guide society at large to a place of moral well-being,” said Sharpton during the meeting. “As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, religious leaders should serve as a thermostat that transforms society, not a thermometer that takes the temperature and allows social pressure to influence it.”