By Mary Landers This is a reprint from Friday, February 12, 2021’s Savannah Morning News .
Blacks and Latinos are more likely to get sick and die from COVID than their white counterparts but also have more hesitancy and less access to the vaccine that can protect them.
In Chatham County for example, 13 of the 15 people age 45 or under who have died from COVID were Black or Latino. But of the first 18,000 people who received the vaccine through the Chatham County Health Department, only 17 percent were Black. African Americans make up 41 percent of the county.
To discuss these issues the Savannah Morning News, The Savannah Tribune and radio stations E-93 and Magic 103.9 hosted the panel “The COVID Vaccine and You: What Black and Latino Communities Need to Know” Thursday evening at St. Philip AME Church in Savannah in conjuction with The Savannah Black Heirtage Festival. The in-person event was limited in number to comply with social distancing guidelines, but the panel was livestreamed at savannahnow.com and on Facebook to allow broader participation. It can be viewed at bit. ly/SMNcovidpanel or www.facebook.com/TheSavannahTribune.
Panelists discussed their experience in getting the vaccine themselves and how they share information about it. Dr. Bonzo Reddick, a Savannah native who works as a family physician at JC Lewis Health Center, said it’s necessary to air concerns about the vaccine and for the healthcare system to earn back the trust of the Black and Latino communities.
“Sometimes we think that maybe if we don’t bring (previous injustices) up they weren’t thinking about it,” he said. “No, they were thinking about it.”
The discussion ranged from common myths about the vaccine, such as its effect on fertility and changing DNA — both untrue — to suspicion about the speed with which the COVID vaccines were produced.
That last point is mitigated by the tremendous effort put into developing the vaccine by scientists around the world, said Karla-Sue Marriott, interim chair of the Chemistry and Forensic Science Department at Savannah State University. Marriott has directed, as principal investigator and co-principal investigator, various National Institutes of Health, NASA and Department of Defense-funded projects.
“When we have everyone working towards this one focus, then it’s not impossible to think that we could have a vaccine that is made in such a short period of time,” she said, noting that the underlying research on mRNA vaccines has been in the works for over ten years.
Tammi Brown, nurse manager for Chatham County at the public health department, got both doses of the vaccine publicly, after researching for herself its safety and efficacy.
“I was honored to be one of the first ones in Georgia to get the vaccine and I thought that was really important that I set the example, not only for my family, but also for my employees, and also for my community,” she said.
Community was on the mind of Beatriz Severson, a registered nurse and advocate for Hispanic communities in Savannah, who delivered her remarks in both English and Spanish. She shared that the Centers for Disease Control website provides information in Spanish (www.cdc. gov/spanish/index.html).
“We’re gonna work together, providing the right information at the right time to make the right decision,” she said. “Education is power.”