Vaccinations necessary to end pandemic, experts warn

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Health care workers, long-term care residents receive priority for vaccine

By Marie Y. Lemelle

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — According to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the likelihood of everyone who wants the coronavirus vaccine being able to get it soon is not likely.

Days after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, it was announced that while the Biden-Harris vaccination plan pushes for delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination for all Americans, the expectations of availability has been lowered. “Everyone won’t be eligible this spring,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

What does that mean for the vulnerable communities, especially African Americans who are already disproportionately dying from the coronavirus? The death rate of African Americans is 13% higher than the statewide number and African Americans make up only 6% of the state’s population but represents 4% of COVID-19 cases statewide.

California’s vaccination plan includes the launch of the Vaccinate All 58, a vaccine safety and equity campaign, to inform individuals who sign up to be notified when it is their turn to receive the vaccine. Health care leaders held a briefing for the Black press to inform and respond to questions and concerns about prevention and protection for the Black community.

California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is an award-winning physician, researcher and advocate dedicated to serving vulnerable communities and combating the causes of health disparities. Harris, along with Dr. Elaine Batchlor, the CEO of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital; and Shantay R. Davies-Balch of the Black Wellness and Prosperity Center, recently hosted a discussion about vaccine hesitancy in the African-American community and the importance of the vaccination to stop COVID-19.

“This vaccine is critical in our fight to end the pandemic and stop the disproportionate numbers of African Americans dying from COVID-19,” said Harris, who was appointed California’s first-ever surgeon general in January 2019. “We cannot ignore the injustices that the Black community has faced within our health care systems that may cause some hesitancy.”

Harris added, “When it comes to this vaccine, I want to assure you that I’ve looked at the evidence. Some of California’s best doctors have looked at the evidence. The vaccine is safe and effective, and when it’s available, everyone should get one.”

The state is rapidly advancing its equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccine to reach more individuals, stressing the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine as the key to building immunity to the deadly virus. To date, more than one million Californians have already received the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge.

“This vaccine has been 18 years in the making ever since studies started on the initial SARS virus in the early 2000s,” Batchlor said. “All communities in California can be assured that the vaccine they receive underwent a rigorous review process before distribution and that this vaccine is up to 95% effective at preventing COVID-19.”

Phase 1A, health care workers and long-term care residents, will continue to be vaccinated as additional phases are entered. Individuals aged 65 and older were recently added to those now approved to receive the vaccine along with those at risk of exposure at work in education, child care, emergency services, and food and agriculture workers.

“The protection that this vaccine will provide our community will enable our schools, businesses, and lives to return to normal once again,” said Davis-Balch.

California has ramped up large vaccine distribution sites at Dodger Stadium, Petco Park in San Diego and Cal Expo in Sacramento to ensure that more Californians are reached in a timely manner. Overcoming concerns within some hard to reach or skeptical populations continues to be a priority in the state.

The clinical trials, according to the rigorous standards of the federal Food and Drug Administration, included tens of thousands of adults from diverse backgrounds, including older adults, adults with chronic illnesses and those from communities of color.

“Everyone needs two doses, two shots of these vaccines. You should expect some mild side effects,” Batchlor said. “These are more common after the second dose, which can include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and fatigue.

The side effects, she added, are really signs that the vaccine is working. If a person is subsequently exposed to the COVID virus, the immune system will be primed and ready to protect.

There were no significant safety concerns identified in any of the clinical trials, the officials said.

“At least eight weeks of safety data were gathered in the trials,” Batchlor said. “And the reason for the eight-week time period is that almost all side effects of vaccines appear within that eight-week window.

“We’ll continue to keep our community healthy, while we get through the whole population and get everyone vaccinated so that we achieve community immunity.”

If you have a history of allergies or have had allergic reactions to a previous vaccine, you should consult with your physician before taking the vaccine.

Davies-Balch shared data from Fresno County.

“We asked folks when the vaccine is available to you, are you planning to take the vaccine and the data is pretty consistent, which is around 40/60, meaning it’s still looking like about 40% are saying yes, and 60% are in either the maybe or the no category,” she said. “Twenty-nine percent of respondents have said no, even if given more information and would not change their mind about receiving the vaccine.”

On Jan. 26, Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the state’s stay-at-home orders, which allows the return to limited restaurant dining, religious services and other activities.

“There will be a total of 150 community-based organizations throughout California to continue to reach out to disproportionately impacted communities with information and updates,” Harris said. In the meantime, she urges everyone to follow the 4 Ws to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Wear a mask, wash hands, watch your distance, and wait to see friends and loved ones.”

For added protection, Californians are urged to enroll in CA Notify on their phones and keep their Bluetooth on to receive alerts if they were in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. People can be notified of any exposure that happened within the last 14 days. Privacy is protected through the program as one’s identity is not known and locations are not tracked. The app is free and available to all Californians who have an IOS or Android phone.

For more information on the latest developments in the vaccine distribution process, please visit www.covid19.ca.gov.

Marie Y. Lemelle is the founder of www.platinumstarpr.com and a film producer. She can be reached at MarieLemelle@platinumstarpr.com. Follow her on Instagram @platinumstarpr.

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