Light at the End of the Tunnel

#AFROcoversCOVID

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By Mylika Scatliffe, Special to the AFRO

The Covid 19 global pandemic was declared in March 2020.  Since then,  America has seen over 500,000 of its citizens die from Covid.  Vaccines  rolled out in record time for emergency use; those 16 & over and are currently being tested for children as young as 6 months.  Mass vaccination sites are set up in various areas around the state and country. People are booking online appointments and standing in lines that wind around blocks and parking lots.  We’re more than ready for life to get back to normal,  that is, the new normal.

Pfizer. Moderna. Johnson & Johnson.  Efficacy. All new trending household words.  The daily talk around the proverbial water cooler goes something like this: 

“You get your shot?”

“Which one?”

“What kind of side effects did you have?”

Covid fatigue aside, many of us, particularly in the Black community, are hesitant, fearful, even downright suspicious of the vaccine.  History lessons about the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment and Henrietta Lacks loom large in our minds. Those shameful chapters may have taken place less than 100 years ago, but even today some of us have to worry about being medically profiled and mismanaged.  Less than a year ago, I was adamant that I would NOT be taking any vaccine. Then I contracted Covid became seriously ill and watched the death toll in the United States surpass 500,000  and was reminded why one of my favorite sayings is “never say what you’ll never do.”  This got me thinking  about the fears, motivations and beliefs surrounding Covid and vaccine.  They run the gamut from it was developed too fast, to it’s made with aborted fetal cells, to it will alter your DNA, to it’s a weapon of black  genocide. 

However, I think more of us have put fears and doubts aside, are stepping out on faith, believe in the science, and are just plain ready for this whole mess to be over. Conversations with just about anyone, from strangers to casual acquaintances to  those closest to me inevitably get around to this question.  “Are you getting the vaccine? Why or why not? “ Here are some of their answers:

Bettie, age 70 (photo taken after receiving her second dose)

Bettie, age 70 

“I was initially doubtful. Then I decided to go ahead and get it if it was approved. I changed my mind because I heard so many stories of people dying horrible, lingering deaths. Even people who weren’t dying from Covid had to die alone because restrictions kept anyone from being with them. And I want my grandchildren to be able to visit me.

Denetra, age 35

“I was on the fence originally. I decided to get it because of where I work. I’m a Human Resources professional and I support a clinical unit. I also thought of the bigger picture. I’m cautious of vaccines in general and never even got the flu shot before my current job. I was concerned about fast it was rolled out. But I want to travel. And visit my mother.

Glenda

Glenda, age 50

“I’m getting the vaccine because I don’t want to die.”

Annie, age 73

“I had no intention of getting the vaccine at first. I never even took the flu vaccine until I was caretaker for my newborn grandson after my daughter went back to work. After 250,000 people died, I changed my mind.”

Joy, age 47

“I’m not getting it.  I don’t trust vaccines and I especially don’t trust this one. The pandemic is only a year old, and I think the timeline is too fast. We’ve only had a year to study the effects of Covid 19.  I just feel uncomfortable. I wish that just as I respect people’s decision to get the vaccine, that people would respect my decision not to.”

Renee

Renee, age 55

“I always wanted to get it and planned to as soon as it was available. I have an underlying health condition and need to protect myself as much as possible. I have no concerns.”

William, age 37

“Yes, I plan on getting the vaccine, in fact I’m scheduled in a couple weeks. I go into multiple clinics and hospitals  for my job, so I feel the safest thing for me and my family is to get vaccinated.”

Skylar, age 25*

“I initially planned to wait 3-4 months. I was a little nervous because I read online about how many years it typically takes to develop vaccines and this was done so quickly. Then I was personally affected by a family death due to Covid, and I’m a teacher and  schools opened back up. I said something has to give, so I went ahead and got it.”

John, age 54

John, age 54

“I never wanted to get it. I don’t trust the government and I don’t want to be a lab rat. No one has been able to tell me the ingredients, I think it restructures your DNA, and that it’s a biological weapon. I’m on the fence ; my family wants me to get it for my safety. If my ability to work and travel is contingent upon the vaccine, I guess I’ll have to do it.”

Sarah, age 65

I wasn’t going to take it while Trump was President. I didn’t trust the best information was being released while he was in office. If he had been re-elected, I would’ve waited and maybe not gotten it at all. Thirty-two years as a Health Science Librarian made me leery of the speed of development.  I learned from my own research that vaccine development is based on money and impacted populations. White people are losing jobs and being impacted so money was thrown at it and quickly. When 5 million people were vaccinated with no substantial death rate and side effects, I decided to get it.

Ronnie

Ronnie, age 71

“I always planned to get it.  I was a little skeptical because of, you know, how black people have been treated in the past by the medical field, but I’ve taken the flu and shingles vaccines for years. Even the one for pneumonia. It’s what I’ve always done since I was a kid.

Clifton, age 50

“I’m getting the vaccine because I don’t want to get sick or get anyone in my family sick. I believe the medical and science community when they say the Covid 19 vaccine is our best chance to lower the spread of the virus and reduce the number of new cases, which is the only way we can get back to some kind of “normal” life.

Byron, age 21

Byron, age 21

“I was cautious about getting the vaccine because I wasn’t sure if they were finished creating it. I was also wary of which one (Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson) would be most effective. My parents kind of changed my mind; they said I would have to get it eventually  so I might as well get it now. Got my first dose 4 days ago. It was A LOT of work to get the appointment. It took a month of searching to schedule it.”

Tiffany, age 48

“I’m getting the vaccine for my peace of my mind.”

******

So, there is hesitancy, but it seems like more people than not are willing and have the desire to be vaccinated.  They’re ready to travel, visit family and just not have to worry about contracting a debilitating virus that may, or may not kill you because you decided to visit friends or go to the gym.   The luck of the draw has some getting text message invitations from primary care physicians to come to the office and get vaccines, while others are checking websites daily, finally scoring appointments, but having to drive 50-60 miles. Some are standing in lines that wind around city blocks or taking their places in vehicles in intricate mazes in amusement park parking lots.  Whatever the circumstances, it’s getting done.

Mylika Scatliffe, the author, after her 1st dose at the Hagerstown Mass vaccination site.

Community initiatives and Facebook groups are laboring, sometimes late at night to  schedule appointments as soon as they open up right after midnight, with particular focus on senior citizens, who are some of the most vulnerable among us. The Baptist Minister’s Conferences of Baltimore and Vicinity are working collaboratively  with large hospital centers and municipalities to run pop up clinics at churches, bring vaccines to senior citizens high rises, and  arrange transportation for seniors  to vaccination sites.  Word of mouth yields little known information, like if you are elderly and/or disabled you can inform someone in charge  when you arrive at sites like the Baltimore Convention Center or Baltimore City Community College and be brought right to the front of the line and not worry about having to walk for long city blocks or stand in long lines. 

You may be waiting for the coveted email or text invitation to schedule your shot, standing in long lines, or getting a call from your doctor; but  let’s get it done so we can hug, visit, worship, fly, barhop or whatever you’ve been missing. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Everyone in Maryland aged 16 and older is now eligible to get vaccinated against Covid-19. 

Mass vaccination sites available by region:

Anne Arundel County – Navy-Corps Stadium in Annapolis, MD

Baltimore City – Baltimore Convention Center and M&T Bank Stadium 

Baltimore County – Timonium Fairgrounds

Capitol Region – Six Flags America in Bowie, MD

Eastern Shore – Wicomico Youth & Civic Center in Salisbury, MD

Southern Maryland – Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, MD

Western Maryland – Hagerstown Premium Outlets in Hagerstown, MD and Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD

*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.