Black Health Launches ‘Get Me Vaxxed’ for Black History Month
Those parents understand the wisdom of fully immunizing their children against measles, mumps, chicken pox and others on the list of contagions that can injure, maim and, yes, kill.
They know that getting a child vaccinated is an act of love and that the Black community, overall, long has ensured that our children are immunized against these preventable diseases.
There also are Black parents who’ve yet to embrace those ideals and the medical facts they’re based upon. Motivated by unchecked disinformation that’s plaguing our world right now, some of those parents have mistakenly asserted that COVID-19 vaccines don’t serve their children’s interests.
The Get Me Vaxxed campaign launched by Black Health, where I am president and CEO, is squarely aimed at debunking lingering myths about vaccines. Those myths endanger some Black children and, by extension, the rest of us. Get Me Vaxxed billboards, bus stop signs, barbershop flyers, social media blasts and assorted announcements are razor-focused on ensuring that the youngest members of our households are thoroughly vaccinated against COVID.
Black Health is waging this campaign as a November 2022 CDC report concluded that just 8.8 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds had at least one dose of the vaccine, a rate that researchers, pediatricians and others consider to be way too low.
Those vaccination rates trail a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis alarmingly showing that, in most states collecting the data, far fewer Black 5- to 11-year-olds than white kids in that age group had been vaccinated against COVID-19. (For Blacks and whites 12 years and older, the vaccination rates had been about the same.)
Those avoidable racial disparities persists for kids nationally, including in several cities that Get Me Vaxxed especially targets: Atlanta; Baton Rouge; Columbia, South Carolina; New York City; Syracuse, New York; and Tuskegee, Alabama. In those locales, Black Health has strong partnerships with major health institutions and Black advocates for community wellness who are showing parents a way forward on vaccines.
The Black physicians, grassroots activists, pastors, hair stylists, white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, friends, neighbors and other everyday folks who’ve helped shape and roll out Get Me Vaxxed are chipping away at misinformation. They’re providing clarity and relieving doubt. For example, at the height of COVID-19, Blacks who chose not to be vaccinated often tried to tie their reluctance to the infamous “Tuskegee Experiment” of the 1930s. It’s a faulty comparison. What’s officially labeled the Syphilis Study at Tuskegee actually involved intentionally withholding medical treatment from Black men who’d contracted syphilis. This, even though a vaccine against that sexually transmitted illness had been invented in 1910.
But there is a huge difference between then and now. More pointedly, there’s a huge difference between refusing to supply health care and encouraging the broad public to partake of available, accessible health care. The COVID vaccine is health care. As a former social worker squarely prioritizing Black wellness and as a longtime community advocate and activist, this is the vaccine gospel that I preach.
Scientists predict that other pandemics likely will follow COVID-19, which disproportionately claimed Black lives. We’ve got to be ready for what’s to come.
We’ve got to lean into the evidence about the overwhelming good that vaccines do — and raise a generation, our children, to accept that same science.
And what’s proven is this: One million 6-month-old through 5-year-old children took either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID vaccines between June 18, 2022 and August 21, 2022. Just 2,000 of those children had adverse reactions to those vaccines. Of those reactions, 98.1 percent were minor, including. Irritability, crying, fever, rashes and soreness in the area where the vaccine was injected.
With Get Me Vaxxed, we are centering our overriding determination that Black children will be protected against a disease that now is endemic, just like the flu is. Without giving it too much thought, many of us annually get vaccinated against the flu, which once had been pandemic.
Get Me Vaxxed itself is part of a broader endeavor to boost Black health at a time when Black health outcomes generally continue to be concerning and lag behind those of other groups.
Before we changed the name of our 35-year-old organization to Black Health, we’d begun our groundbreaking wellness work as the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, gaining attention, financial and other support from an array of large and small donors and federal health agencies. Through our innovative initiatives, we were able to win many battles in our fight against HIV. Recognizing the urgency to expand our territory and do other kinds of pioneering work in the health sphere, we also are addressing Black mental health, breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, sickle cell disease, disparities in health care delivery and resources and the sometimes troublesome encounters between Black patients and health care providers.
Get Me Vaxxed is our latest rallying cry on behalf of Black communities. Our kids don’t have big enough voices to speak for themselves. They cannot get themselves to vaccine sites without a grown-up leading them.
So, this is urgent work. We must do it. We must exercise the same diligence that Blacks, for decades, have shown in getting and keeping our kids vaccinated.
Before helming Black Health, longtime civil rights activist C. Virginia Fields served two terms as a New York City Councilwoman and, following that, two terms as Borough President of Manhattan in New York City.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this op/ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Black Enterprise.