Black physicians in Sedgwick County are urging all doctors – especially those who treat patients of color – to help dispel inaccurate COVID-19 myths and promote the widespread use of the vaccine among minority groups.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black people are 1.4 times more likely to get COVID-19, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 2.8 times more likely to die compared with White, non-Hispanic people. The numbers are similarly high for Hispanic and Native American populations.
“We, as a community, are suffering more,” said Maurice Duggins, MD, a family physician with Ascension Via Christi. “As a result, the best thing we can do is to help reduce the burden of disease in our community. The vaccine is not an experiment anymore. It has been looked at and the benefits way outweigh any risk. This is actually an intervention to make sure we reduce the burden.”
Race and ethnicity are risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health, including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus related to occupation, such as frontline, essential, and critical infrastructure workers, the CDC reported.
Living in highly populated areas, often in an extended family household and being more likely to have comorbidities such as diabetes make the messaging to minority groups even more imperative, said Dennis Onentia Oyieng’o, MD, a pulmonary and critical care specialist with Ascension Via Christi. Confusion about the coronavirus, combined with general mistrust of the medical community, has contributed to anxiety among Black people over getting the vaccine.
“Physicians of color need to take leadership in terms of pushing people to get this vaccine,” Oyieng’o said. “We need to build trust in the community and try to get the right knowledge out there so that people can understand the vaccine better. People have fear and they don’t know much about it. Our role is to give them the right information so they can make the right decision.”
Duggins pointed out that minority researchers have had a prominent role in developing the vaccine. Black immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett is a senior research fellow who has spent the past six years working in the National Institutes of Health’s Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory and has become a central figure in COVID-19 vaccine science.
Oyieng’o noted that of the more than 70,000 people who participated in the vaccine trials, 9-11% of them were minorities, which is proportionate to the country’s population.
“The vaccine studies are well-represented with minorities,” he said. “So the benefit is there. We know there is 95% effectiveness in those conditions of the study. The only way we can make this vaccine replicable in terms of a high success rate is for us to try to get as many of us vaccinated as possible.”