Award-winning actor, author and philanthropist Hill Harper. (Courtesy Photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Award-winning actor, author and philanthropist Hill Harper took a break from his busy schedule and made his way to Baltimore to join city leaders and medical experts for meaningful conversation around the emerging Delta Variant and COVD-19’s impact on Black communities.

The ongoing global health crisis has had adverse effects on Black residents in essentially every major city and has highlighted a number of health disparities, especially in Baltimore.

As of Aug. 7, roughly 283,000 Baltimore City residents have been fully vaccinated, according to the Baltimore City COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard. The dashboard’s latest statistics also reveal that 35.3% of Black city residents have been fully vaccinated, while 40.7% have received at least their first or single dose.

In contrast, well over 50% of Baltimore’s White population has been vaccinated and more than 80% of the city’s Asain residents have been vaccinated.

Harper, who stars in the medical drama “The Good Doctor,” took his role off-screen to generate more dialogue around the COVID-19 vaccine and the effects of COVID-19 in the Black community.

He recently began traveling to various cities across the country, encouraging vaccine-hesitant communities (primarily Black) to consider getting vaccinated, with his latest stop being Baltimore on Aug. 5. Harper wants those who are “on the fence” to heavily consider the risks associated with remaining unvaccinated.

“It’s everyone’s choice to get a vaccine. It’s a better choice to get it than to not get it, and that’s what we have to remind people,” Harper told the AFRO. 

“I’m not saying you must get . I’m saying think about the alternatives and make a choice. There are people around this world that would to get this vaccine, yet we, in the Black community, are saying no. We have to do better.”

Several factors have contributed to vaccine skepticism amongst Black people particularly distrust of the government and health institutions, Harper said.

“I believe in positive impact and legacy, and what’s frustrating me about this vaccine issue is, of all the work I’ve done, if my people are dying it means nothing,” said the Ivy League graduate.

“What’s the use of all this time to do community work if the community won’t even protect itself?”

The Mayor’s Office partnered with Harper, local religious leaders and health officials to host several activities and discussions focusing on the Delta Variant and COVID-19’s impact on Black communities on Aug. 5. 

First, Harper visited senior assisted living facilities, including the Zeta Center for Healthy and Active Aging in Park Heights, then stopped by to speak with students at Mercy High School before sitting on a panel at the Mix Church for a fireside chat. 

Harper was joined by Faith Leach, deputy mayor for equity, health and human services, and Baltimore NAACP President Rev. Kobi Little and Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa for a spirited discussion, which attracted quite a few young and middle-aged Black men

“Most of the folks in the audience were Black males under the age of 40, and they had very real and raw conversation,” Leach, who moderated the discussion, said.

“That was the whole point of this conversation: to really target those groups, and young Black men in particular are one population that have real hesitancy around getting the vaccination.”

Some of the concerns expressed by the crowd at the Mix Church included whether the vaccine could lead to infertility or affect fetuses in pregnant women, Leach added. Among the most vaccine-hesitant individuals are young Black males, faith-based communities with religious objections and a number of conservative-leaning individuals, she highlighted.

Little, who stands with Scott’s decision to reinstate mask-wearing for indoor settings amid growing concerns related to the more transmissible Delta Variant, also concurred with Harper.

“What I say to people who are vaccine-hesitant is weigh the risks,” Little said.

“You know what the risks of COVID are. You might not know what the risks of the vaccine are but they’re not as great as death and hospitalization. We’ve seen that in the millions, so if we do nothing, that’s going to be our fate.”

Harper’s adoptive son, Pierce, is five years old and will attend school in person with other children this upcoming academic year. Harper explained that Pierce and his classmates wear masks and work in pods to minimize the risk of catching and spreading the virus.

When asked whether he would allow his son to be vaccinated if it were authorized for children younger than 12, Harper quickly responded, “Yes.”

“I would because I’m more concerned about the chronic illness of catching a severe COVID case, and obviously all the data is pointing toward vaccinated individuals having a reduced reaction,” he concluded.

“You want to talk about, as a parent, pacing the halls of the hospital looking at your child on a ventilator knowing that you could’ve made a better decision. No way. There’s no question in my mind.”

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