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Making it plain: What Black America needs to know about COVID-19 and vaccines

COVID-19 vaccine. (303011)
COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Daniel Schludi

As the primary health officers of the African American family, Black women have been closely involved with healthcare issues and other crises of importance in the African-American community. They make up to 79 percent of the health care decisions for their families.

Since mid-January 2021, the United States is showing an increasing share of Black Americans who have confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 61 percent of African-Americans said they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine or have already received it. That’s a sharp increase from last November when only 42 percent of Black people said they planned to get vaccinated. Despite this positive shift, COVID-19 vaccination rates in Black communities are still lagging behind their white counterparts.

This historical reality is a major reason why a group of 13 trusted messengers came together to discuss their plans to help Black people deal with the current pandemic during a Black Doctors Against COVID-19 (BCAC) Facebook Live event called, “Making it Plain: Black Women and COVID-19: The Virus, the Variants, and the Vaccines.”

In a recent episode of the BCAC’s important, informative and ongoing series, the nation’s top Black women who are medical experts, health professionals, corporate, and civic leaders continued to keep Black Americans informed about what we need to know about the COVID-19 virus, the variants, and the vaccines.

Dr. Nunez-Smith, chair of the White House COVID-19 Equity Task Force, was one of the event’s guest speakers. She informed the 600,000+ viewers that although recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that COVID-19 deaths have been decreasing in March, we should still be concerned. Dr. Nunez-Smith is keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 patterns as the CDC sounds the alarm about the continued spread of the variants in the United States, particularly the emergence of the B.117 variant.

“That’s thought to be about 50 percent more transmissible than the wild-type strain,” Nunez-Smith said. “That might become our most dominant strain of COVID-19,” she said. “So, we have to be attentive. We think we’re seeing the beginning effects of these variants. We know what to do though in terms of the steps that we need to take to stop the spread of COVID-19. And certainly, that does include getting vaccinated.”

Nunez-Smith said that although the spread of new variants is a concern, there are also reasons for optimism. One reason for optimism, the United States once again has three FDA-approved vaccines for emergency use: Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson which were recently taken off pause by federal health agencies.

“The bottom line is still to get vaccinated,” Nunez-Smith added. “Even more importantly now; that’s how we stop viruses from mutating,” she said. “And of course, continue to wear our masks; you know, the things we know help. That’s socially distancing and washing our hands.”

Important messaging about Black churches helping with vaccination efforts came from Debra Frazer-Howze, founder of Choose Healthy Life, an initiative where she joins forces with Black clergy and Black churches to respond to COVID-19 and other health disparities that put our communities in states of emergency. She’s another respected Black messenger who is working diligently to help close the vaccine hesitancy gap and build vaccine confidence in our Black communities.

Recent data in April from the CDC exposes the scars of vaccine disparities that continue to plague our Black communities. According to the report, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of White people have received at least one dose of a vaccine compared to just 8 percent of Black people. Anecdotally, Frazer-Howze said she’s seen this play out too often. Recently, she found out about a group of White women who visited the Harlem Hospital from affluent addresses in Manhattan to get vaccinated after missing appointments they had made online. She said this example speaks loudly to the disparities in vaccine distribution in Black communities.

“Something’s wrong with the fact that we have not ensured that people within the Harlem zip code have the priority instead of the people on Park Avenue having the priority to get the vaccine,” Frazer-Howze said.

Frazer-Howze reminds us that the Black church has made it a priority to keep in touch with residents in our Black communities, checking in with people when they’ve missed a vaccine appointment and providing transportation for them to get vaccinated. Frazer-Howze said Black churches reaching out and providing more shots into our arms have been indispensable aspects for COVID-19 vaccination efforts. She added that Black churches are the vital keys that more Black Americans should use to help unlock the door to vaccine equity in our communities.

“These are some of the things that we have to put in place if we want to see fair and equitable treatment,” Frazer-Howze said. We have to figure out what we have to do that’s culturally competent for our own community to make what we want to make happen, happen.”

As we inch closer to crossing the finish line to defeating this more than year-long pandemic, it’s imperative that we don’t let our guard down and not allow COVID-19 misinformation to have a grip on our Black communities. Frazer-Howze said it’s also paramount that our trusted messengers are educated and have the adequate facts to transmit the truth about COVID-19 to Black communities on our way back to normalcy later this year.

“We’ve heard misinformation and non-truth for so long in the last four years that it almost feels as if that’s a natural norm,” Frazer-Howze said. “That is not natural, not in the middle of a pandemic. We have to have absolute facts and our people deserve the truth. They deserve the truth to come from their leaders. They deserve that their leaders are educated and understand all the facts about vaccines, testing, and everything else. Our community is in need. We deserve to live. We deserve to choose life.”

For more information about COVID-19, health, or wellness, visit

Darryl Sellers is the Public Relations Director for Creative Marketing Resources, a strategic marketing agency in Milwaukee and a partner of the BCAC.