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For numerous reasons, there is a reluctance among many people to taking the COVID vaccine. 

This is particularly true among minorities (https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/17/opinions/african-americans-covid-vaccine-sacks/index.html), many of whom have expressed distrust with vaccines in general, and also the seemingly swift development of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines.  

Some concerns are perfectly understandable, while others have zero legitimacy.

For African Americans, there is a long history of abuse by the medical profession. This goes well beyond the infamous Tuskegee “experiment” in which African American men with syphilis were not treated, but were observed as syphilis ravaged their bodies in a supposed effort to determine the course of the disease. What those “doctors” did was a crime not appreciably different from the experiments of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.

Sadly, the outrage goes far beyond that. For years, in at least 31 States, African American, Puerto Rican and/or Native American women often were sterilized because racist doctors believed they were inferior and should not be allowed to reproduce. (https://www.thoughtco.com/u-s-governments-role-sterilizing-women-of-color-2834600).

A young African, Latino or Native American girl would go into a hospital to have her appendix removed, and wake up without her appendix or her womb. Minority young men also were sterilized, but not as often as minority girls and women. By “girls”, children as young as 12 were sterilized. Forced sterilization continued from very early in the 20th century until at least the mid 1970’s.

The outrage goes beyond forced sterilization. In Puerto Rico, where, at one time, as many as 1/3 of the female population had been sterilized, those not sterilized became unwitting participants in testing birth control medications. In the early stages of development, there often were severe side effects, including women dying. But, Puerto Ricans were considered expendable; so, they made ideal test subjects.

Consequently, when African, Latin or Native Americans express reluctance to take this vaccine, those memories probably weigh heavily.

Another legitimate concern goes to the apparent rapidity these vaccines were developed. As the virus began spreading in the U.S., researchers were saying it probably would take 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine. We have 2 FDA approved vaccines in about 10 months; unquestionably record time. With the intense politicization of the virus and Trump’s incessant pressuring pharmaceutical companies to move faster in producing a vaccine, many people quite legitimately are concerned corners were cut and the vaccines produced might not be either safe or effective.

Fortunately, thankfully, African, Latin and Native Americans have nothing to fear with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.  Nor does anyone need fear corners were cut. The development of these vaccines probably is the most transparent (to the general public) in the nation’s history. Information about the clinical trials is public record and easily available online.  

With a few exceptions, anyone age 16 ( for Pfizer) or 18 (for Moderna) or older can feel safe taking these vaccines. Those with allergies to foods (such as peanuts), some medications, or bee stings definitely should consult with a physician before taking the vaccine. Both vaccines are about 95 percent effective, which is a high rate of efficacy for a vaccine, particularly a new vaccine.

An African American woman, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, is a National Institute of Health scientist who is one of the lead scientists in developing the Moderna vaccine. Minorities can take comfort in the fact a minority woman has been so instrumental in the development of this vaccine.

Dr. Jerome Adams, also an African American, is the Surgeon General of the United States. He has reviewed thoroughly all of the research on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. He agrees these vaccines are effective and safe, and publicly took the first of the two required vaccination shots. Numerous African American doctors and nurses also publicly have taken the first shot to help assure the African American, and also Latin and Native American communities these vaccines are effective and safe.

In a way, it is good the first people taking the vaccines are our front-line health care workers. They lead the way be setting the example. They are far better positioned than those of us in the general public to know whether to trust these vaccines. Also, any adverse reactions among them are going to be recorded and reported.

As to the rapidity of development, it is not nearly as rapid as most people think. The foundation of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is mRNA (messenger RiboNucleic Acid). Dr. Katalin Kariko, a Hungarian immigrant, who now is at the University of Pennsylvania, began research on mRNA in the 1970’s. Since the 1990’s, she has been working on the potential of mRNA as the foundation of vaccines. Consequently, much of the research leading to these two vaccines is not new.

We also have people who are opposed to vaccines in general. This is a case of vaccines becoming victims of their own success. Think for a minute of all of the diseases either virtually eradicated or relatively rare in the U.S. because of vaccines: Small pox, polio, diphtheria, typhoid fever, yellow fever, tuberculosis, bacterial pneumonia, measles, chicken pox, mumps, rubella, tetanus, malaria, cholera, hepatitis types A B & E, ebola, and influenza. Think about how healthy we would be as a nation, what life expectancy would be if we had no vaccines and these diseases still could run rampant in the nation.

Many of these diseases either have been eliminated (polio) or are so uncommon (measles) people think the risk of adverse side effects are greater than the disease. The 2019 measles outbreak should tell us the need for vaccinations still exists. As research continues, both safety and effectiveness of vaccines increases. The flu vaccine is a good example. When it first was approved, adverse reactions were far more common than today.

There have not been any reports on the number of people who actually have been vaccinated to day. With 2.9 million doses distributed, the number doubtlessly is well over 100,000. Of those vaccinated, there have been five reported relatively serious adverse reactions in the U.S. All were effectively treated and the reactions subsided.  

It is clear chances of dying from COVID are far higher than chances of death or any serious reaction from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Consequently, not only for your own health and safety, but for that of your family, loved ones and friends, when the vaccine is available for you, take it.

Take the vaccine, please.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and educator Samuel Freeman. It appears in the Rio Grande Guardian with the author’s permission. To reach Freeman, email: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a scientist at the National Institute of Health.


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