NAACP Town Hall Panelists say…
Keep Masks On, Warns African-American COVID Doctors, Scientists, Health Experts
On Saturday, May 8th, the Atlanta branch of the NAACP brought together some heavyweight African-American scientists and physicians for a virtual town hall meeting on the corona virus and the vaccines currently on the marketplace.
“This is not a pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine conversation,” emphasized Charise Jefferson, an Atlanta-based political strategist and founding member of the John Lewis Coalition for Democracy. “This is a Black conversation for Black people with Black scientists (and doctors). There is a lot of misinformation out there. We want to use the time to pull back the layers so we can understand what we are dealing with.”
While the six panelists differed on many issues COVID has generated, they all agreed that masks, social distancing and avoiding large crowds should still be used. One panelist further suggested that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to relax all restrictions including masks and social distancing in early May via executive order was premature. “As hospitalizations, cases, deaths, and percent positive tests all continue to decline – and with vaccinations on the rise – Georgians deserve to fully return to normal.” Kemp also barred Georgia schools from requiring masks.
While several of the panelists, including moderator Jefferson, pondered the wisdom of Kemp’s decision, panelist and research scientist Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, approached the question this way. “I stay clear of policy decisions but say, scientifically, there is less risk among children so you have to weigh what the risk is versus the benefits of getting kids back to schools.
“There is no right answer here,” added panel member Dr. Jacqueline Walters, an obstetrician-gynecologist. “We don’t know. We jump in; if we have to jump out, we jump out. The mental health of the kids is being jeopardized now to the point they are saying we have to get them (students) back in the classroom.”
Corbett, credited with creating the Moderna virus, joined her colleagues on the NAACP panel toward dealing with social inequities in health especially among Blacks and other peoples of color. “I don’t think you can separate science from politics. The first step toward leveling the playing field is a verbatim apology. I’m not sure we have gotten that far on behalf of our ancestors who went through medical mistrust and injustices and certainly don’t get it day in and day out as it happens in our community. We need somebody to step up and say we’re sorry and that we hear you and are doing something about it. The onus then becomes clearer that it is not on us to change the way we think about the system but on the system to change the way they think about us.” Panelist Dr. Jabril Johnson, a specialist on cancer research, says COVID experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci “admitted that COVID 19 (also referred to as SARS-CoV-2) didn’t create the health disparities we see. It just exposed them. I studied cancer research for many years and see the same barriers that affect the community in cancer as we did with any other illness or virus we talk about. When COVID struck, we have to face the barriers that exist: lack of access to health care and lack of education. They exist not because of COVID emerging. They have always been there. We have to counter the disinformation that has come principally from politicians because of politics in place that reinforce the stigma we face as far as underrepresented communities. It is not a one-population issue. It is not a one-person issue. It is a national problem.”
The issue is not devoid of racism either, says panelist Walters. She told listeners to the COVID town hall via Facebook and Zoom on May 8th that studies she has seen purport that in some hospitals, nurses “admitted caring less for American-American women after cesarians where pain was involved than they did white women.” “There are published studies saying nurses would offer pain medicines to white women before they would to a Black woman.” Walters went further. “One study showed that some first- and second-year medical students do believe African-American women have a thicker skin and less pain. (The Inquirer emailed Dr. Walters’ office to try and get copies of those studies. Her office had not responded as of May 30, 2021).
“How to make change?,” added panelist Dr. Katareda Ford. “If we think about it, policies have been in place but are they always enforced? It starts with us (Black doctors, physicians and the public) caring about change and getting our youth involved in medicine, getting them to major in science or become doctors. We need more of us in the room.”
Dr. Corbett says she is convinced that despite disparities and mistrusts among many, especially African-Americans, science holds the key to ridding the world of the COVID scourge and that the current vaccines on the market are safe. “Men and women lie, numbers don’t,” she says. “The data overwhelmingly favors the vaccines being safe and effective. Our phase one trials started over a year ago. Even though there is ample reason for the system not being trustworthy, actually it is looking out. There are many checkpoints throughout this entire process that are ways for us to vet the vaccine and ensure people’s safety along the way. Regards the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, when there were issues, the system said pause because it wanted to investigate that even further. If there was any of the slightest of a clue with any safety issues to these vaccines, trust and believe they would be removed from the shelves so to speak until those issues are fully understood.” Dr Ford also suggested that another vaccine to hit the market soon called “NVX-CoV2373,” manufactured by Maryland-based Novavax, Inc. “is a protein-based vaccine that is easier to understand.” “It’s been a vaccine company for many, many years and the technology they are using is something many people can grasp and the data provided thus far is proving very promising.” The vaccines have been out several months now and distributed to various cultures in different backgrounds and diversities,” added panelist Dr. Nejlah Clark, a longtime emergency room doctor and first responder. “Evidence suggests that having the vaccine is better than getting COVID.”
But Clark and the panelists warn that the world is not out of the pandemic woods yet. “There is this assumption that I’ve received the vaccine so I can remove my mask. No. Keep them on. Stay patient. It can cause a myriad of problems and symptoms. (One possible side effect Clark notes, is the post-acute COVID-19 syndrome that can strike even those who have taken the vaccine). We are still learning about COVID. Studies have shown (the syndrome) can last up to six months. This is going to be the new thing we will have to address. Doctors and scientists must come up with new therapeutics. Vaccines won’t help you here.” She also warns that health care providers aren’t really ready for another round of wholesale pandemic epidemic. “We could possibly collapse our system if we don’t do what we (the public) are supposed to do. Medically we are not ready to repeat what we just did at the beginning. We need a break. We are working through our issues as health care workers and providers with the missteps and mishaps from the start. We are just starting to get our footing back and underneath us, so we still need everyone to take precautions.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Johnson says scientists and doctors of color are in effect, “watching your back.” “We not only overstate but are actively doing things to, one, change the course and, two, make the knowledge public”
Watch the entire COVID Town Hall presentation by visiting: https://www.facebook.com/131670760266933/videos/337260947731537. Roll video to the 25:59 mark.