Dr. Virginia Caine did not mince words when she spoke to members of the local NAACP chapter Jan. 7 about the COVID-19 vaccines.
There will be side effects, she told them, from fatigue to headaches to chills. Mild side effects are common with vaccines, a sign the body is building an immune response.
“This is a battle,” Caine told them, and people would be better off with a headache because of the vaccine as opposed to some of the long-term side effects that can come with COVID-19, including neurological issues and chronic shortness of breath.
Caine, a Black medical professional and director of the Marion County Public Health Department, has a tall task now that two COVID-19 vaccines — one from Moderna and one from Pfizer — are becoming more readily available to the public. She has to convince African Americans, long skeptical of medical malice, to get the shot.
Under state guidelines, the vaccine is currently available to licensed and unlicensed health care workers and first responders, as well as anyone who is 70 and older. The county health department opened a vaccine clinic Jan. 11.
Caine said during a COVID-19 update Jan. 7 she has heard a number of concerns about the vaccine from all ages and races.
“They want to know about a new vaccine,” she said.
It’s clear, though, that the toughest sell will most likely be African Americans.
When Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) surveyed Americans in September 2020 to see how likely they were to get a COVID-19 vaccine, 63% said they would if it was free and deemed safe by scientists, but only half of Black respondents said they would.
Both of those percentages have gone up since, with another KFF survey from December showing 71% of people would take the vaccine, including 62% of Black respondents.
The percentage of people who need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not given a number, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s senior official for infectious diseases, told NPR it would likely require 75% to 85% of people being vaccinated.
In addition to her presentation for the local NAACP chapter, Dr. Caine has worked with the Baptist Minister’s Alliance, Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, along with other groups, and she’s been making media appearances to promote the vaccine.
Jeffrey Johnson Sr., senior pastor at Eastern Star Church, one of the health department’s partners, said he hears Black people talk about America’s historical sins, and he agrees. The issue now, he said, is what might happen to someone who doesn’t get the vaccine but does contract COVID-19, which has taken an especially hard toll on Black Americans.
“I don’t believe it’s my responsibility to tell people to take the vaccine,” he said. “I do believe that I have a responsibility as one of the leaders here to inform and educate.”
Johnson said he’s been gauging interest from other local African American leaders about taking the vaccine publicly — like what former President Barack Obama has said he’ll do.
“If they see me get my vaccine and the second shot and I’m still around, that may be helpful,” he said with a laugh.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.