By Carol Vaughn —
Dr. Anthony Fauci in a virtual meeting with Virginia faith leaders described COVID-19’s impact on the “Black and Brown” communities as “a double whammy,” noting jobs held by people of color often require them to be out in the community interacting in person, with the increased chance of exposure to the virus, and that, for those who become infected, there is a predisposition to get a more severe case because of underlying health conditions.
The Facts and Faith Fridays group began in March 2020 as a weekly call led by Dr. Robert Winn, director of VCU’s Massey Cancer Center, with Black clergy in Virginia to address the disparate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community and has evolved to also address other health disparities.
The group opened its Jan. 8 virtual meeting to the public.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the United States is the worst-hit country in the worldwide pandemic, with more than 20 million cases and close to 360,000 deaths as of Friday.
“One of the extraordinary aspects of this pandemic is the racial and ethnic disparities,” he said.
Hospitalization rates due to COVID-19 in the U.S. between March 1 and Dec. 26 were 564 per 100,000 for Black people, compared to 644 for Latinos, 636 for American Indians/Alaska Natives; 203 for Asians, and 184 for Whites.
The numbers were age-adjusted.
Death rates also show “an extraordinary disparity,” Fauci said.
The COVID-19 death rate in the U. S. is 132 per 100,000 for Blacks, compared to 115 for American Indians/Alaska Native, 102 for Latinos, 81 for Whites, 77 for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, 69 for other race, 59 for Asians, and 10 for people of two or more races.
Fauci noted the national Vaccine Research Center, established in the 1990s to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine, enabled the COVID-19 vaccine research to be developed so quickly, in part because of previous research conducted and collaboration with other agencies in Operation Warp Speed.
Fauci predicted more vaccines will be forthcoming.
“You’ll hear about them soon, probably within the next couple of weeks,” he said of vaccines being developed by AstraZenaca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and Sanofi.
Vaccine distribution has had “some bumps in the road on the way,” but Fauci said the hope is that by April, “we’ll be able to have what we call open season, namely, anybody, even if you’re not in a priority group, can wind up getting vaccinated — hopefully, even sooner than that.”
Fauci addressed “a degree of skepticism, understandable skepticism, among the Brown and Black community” about the vaccine, noting those groups have not always been treated ethically and fairly by the government in the past when it comes to medical matters.
Research published in June showed just 25% of Blacks said they planned to get a coronavirus vaccine when one was available, compared to 56% of Whites, and 37% of Latinos.
“That’s the reason why I and my colleagues are out there to talk about the process of how this is clearly a safe and effective vaccine, which I have enough confidence in that I myself…was vaccinated publicly to show the case.”
“We want you all to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.
Still, until 70% to 85% of the population is vaccinated, hopefully in 2021, it is important to keep wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping social distance to prevent the virus’ spread, Fauci said.
Gov. Ralph Northam also spoke, calling the speed with which vaccines were developed “nothing short of amazing,” but saying no corners were cut in the process.
He assured listeners, “You will not get COVID from the vaccine” and said he has no hesitation about taking the vaccine when his turn comes.
Getting a large majority of the population vaccinated “is our only real way out of this pandemic,” he said.
Noting this is “the biggest vaccination program we have seen in our lifetimes,” Northam said the number of doses coming to Virginia, now around 110,000 a week, should increase as production ramps up.
Virginia’s initial goal is 25,000 vaccinations a day, with the ultimate goal to do 50,000 a day.
“I’ve urged vaccinators to get vaccine into arms as fast as they can,” Northam said.
Northam urged faith leaders to help get the word out that vaccines are safe and their congregants should take them.
Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said local health departments “would be eager to work with faith leaders” to have churches or other faith community sites be locations for vaccinations to be given.
He recommended faith leaders contact their local health department.
The U. S. National Library of Medicine gives this explanation for how vaccines work:
Most vaccines contain germs, or parts of germs, that cause disease. The germs have been killed or weakened enough that they won’t make a person sick but they will provoke an immune response.
The immune system then remembers the germ and will attack it if it invades again, giving immunity to that disease.
The COVID-19 vaccines authorized so far in the United States work differently. Called mRNA vaccines, they “teach” the vaccinated person’s cells how to make a protein, or a piece of a protein, that triggers an immune response, which builds immunity and protects the person if the actual virus later enters the body.