The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is now in phase two and many influential, Black people have shared videos of their vaccination on social media. Purpose Built Communities saw an opportunity to provide local Atlanta communities of color with factual information about the virus and the vaccine, to help inform and educate.
Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving racial equity, economic mobility and health outcomes in neighborhoods across the country, hosted A Conversation on the COVID-19 vaccine. The Facebook live event was moderated by Danny Shoy, President and CEO of the East Lake Foundation and featured Dr. Jayne Morgan, a Cardiologist, and the Clinical Director of the Covid Task Force at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta.
In her role at Piedmont Healthcare, Dr. Morgan develops ongoing community outreach in conjunction with the Division of Diversity and Inclusion between Piedmont and the African American community it serves. Dr. Morgan started the conversation with the history of mistrust the Black community has against the medical field, referencing the Tuskegee trials and the Father of Gynecology. While we should be aware of our history it is important to note we have come along way and many rules have been put in place to protect disadvantaged groups when it comes to clinical trials. The perspective she delivered was filtered through the lens of racial equity and social justice.
About the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are currently two vaccines in market developed by two companies, Pfizer and Moderna. Both vaccines have received Emergency Use Authorization because COVID-19 is one of the worst pandemics the U.S. has ever faced. Currently, data shows immunity from the vaccine lasts 90 days (about 3 months) and once the long-term data is available it can be approved by the FDA.
Each vaccine requires two doses with Moderna’s delivered 4 weeks apart and Pfizer’s 21 days (about 3 weeks) apart. Both doses should come from the same company. Another small difference between the two vaccines is the storage requirements; however, the efficacy and safety are almost identical.
Concerning rollout, we are currently in the second phase where first responders, essential workers, 65 & older population, and people with comorbid conditions and mental or physical developmental disabilities are being vaccinated.
When the vaccine is available to the public it will be available at hospitals, physician’s offices, and pharmacies. If you are not sure where to receive your vaccination, Dr. Morgan recommends first asking your physician or local hospital.
The Importance of Black representation in clinical trials.
In the U.S., there are significant racial disparities in access to health coverage and in health outcomes and people of color are far more likely to be uninsured.
As an uninsured or underinsured group, clinical trials supply people access to “outstanding platinum level healthcare” as Dr. Morgan describes it. She wants us to start thinking of the healthcare system in connection with clinical trials. When Trump contracted the coronavirus, he was treated with Monoclonal Antibodies which aided in his speedy recovery. The only other people who received that drug were those included in the clinical trials.
Where else can you get free, round the clock medical care? “If you are not being offered a clinical trial, you are not being treated maximally”, said Dr. Morgan. Ask yourself how many times a clinical trial has been recommended to you.
Most drugs that are considered safe for people have performed well for the majority White male clinical trial participants. When Black people suffer a reaction from an approved drug, we are missing from trials that show possible risks upfront.
One of Dr. Morgan’s recurring points was the need of Black representation in clinical trials. It is also important to note we are severely underrepresented in cancer trials some of which cancers are specific to the Black community (prostate, colon, certain types of breast).
Black representation in COVID-19 clinical trials.
Blacks made up roughly 10% of the COVID-19 vaccine trials compared to the 13.4% that makeup the general population. The 10% is a strong number considering Black people usually make up less than five percent of most clinical trials.
Dr. Morgan remarked that Black representation in these trials and results among the group was phenomenal. “There were absolutely zero side effects noted for Blacks who were enrolled in these trials that actually received the vaccine.” To ease thoughts about the vaccine, Dr. Morgan, who recently received her first dose of the vaccine is confident in its safety for the Black community. She likened her symptoms to that of the flu vaccine, only experiencing site injection soreness and stiffness in the first 24 hours.
New variant of SARS-CoV-2.
The virus has mutated over 2,500 times. Regarding the recently found U.K. variant strain discovered in Georgia, Dr. Morgan assured viewers that it does not alter the severity of COVID-19, but it is more contagious. If you encounter someone who has been infected by the strain, you are more likely to catch it. Because there is a higher chance of contracting the virus, we could potentially see an increase in hospitalizations, which could further strain our healthcare systems since we are currently in our third spike in cases.
This vaccine was developed too quickly.
While it seems COVID-19 appeared in the U.S. and ten months later, a vaccine is being administered, that’s not entirely the case. In 2003, the first outbreak of SARS occurred, during this time there was ongoing research, study and trials so when the SARS-CoV-2 emerged 17 years later, scientists had a head start in finding solutions with access to nearly two decades of research.
The best way to stay safe.
Whether you are considering the vaccine or not, everyone should follow CDC guidelines. Continue to wear masks and practice social distancing when around anyone who does not live with you and wash your hands. Even though you might be covered, you can still be a carrier. Everyone must do their part to stop community spread because there are people who cannot take the vaccine because of their own health issues. “People are depending on you to be healthy,” emphasized Dr. Morgan. If phase two of the vaccine rollout applies to you and you are interested in taking the vaccine contact your physician first and if you are still left with questions, contact your local hospital. We cannot beat this virus without everyone doing their part, so let’s stay covered together.