As you know, Election Day did not live up to the hype of a magical marker by which the nation would get a vaccine to stave off the rampaging coronavirus.
That’s just as well, since it brought instead an overload of other news -exhilarating to a majority and a big fat lie to those who crave an alternate perspective.
But the announcement by Pfizer of a potential coronavirus vaccine offers hope to us all. It could mean returning to a normal life instead of being subsumed by the unsatisfying virtual world in which we’ve been forced to dwell for eight long months.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that the vaccine being developed by Pfizer could be available to priority groups by the end of December and widely available to the rest of the population in spring. That’s hopeful news as we face the fact that more than 10 million people across the country have been infected and at least 240,000 have perished.
The Pfizer vaccine offers the promise of being more than 90 percent effective, but that means little if Americans are too scared to take it or any other coronavirus vaccine that might be forthcoming. Combine that fear with the obstinacy of those who refuse to wear a mask, which the CDC belatedly declares protects both the wearer and those around them, and we could be living in virtual reality for a long time.
Here at home, no one is more keenly aware of the distrust for a coronavirus vaccine than Dr. Frederic Guerrier, a well-known family medicine physician who has practiced in St. Petersburg for 36 years. He spoke this week of people who won’t even take a flu shot. Never mind that in this perilous pandemic year health care officials are imploring everyone to get the flu vaccine.
Suspicion of a coronavirus vaccine is particularly prevalent in the Black community, whose collective history is scarred by medical atrocities that include the decades-long Tuskegee syphilis trials. Still, Guerrier vows to encourage his patients, especially those with comorbidities such as high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney and heart disease – underlying conditions that put them at high risk for serious complications or death from the coronavirus – to get the vaccine when it is authorized.
“Everybody should be excited about it. I think the major question about it is how people feel about taking it, because of the mistrust,” said Guerrier, who decried the politics interjected into the vaccine’s development.
But politics does have some benefits. Recently re-elected State Sen. Darryl Rouson says one of his priorities will be to urge the Florida Department of Health to give more clout to its Office of Minority Health to address comorbidities that have put Black residents and other people of color at a disproportionately higher risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19. The office was created in 2000 to address health disparities, the senator said, but has experienced steep budget cuts over the years.
Like Guerrier, Rouson has heard of the reluctance to take “an experimental drug” to fight the coronavirus. He, too, is committed to making sure that Blacks and other constituents of color get accurate information to make right decisions. “I urge anyone at risk to take this vaccine,” he said this week, adding that he and his family will certainly take it.
It’s the sort of example that might convince some to accept the new vaccine. A few days ago I listened to a group of mostly Black doctors and Black East Coast politicians as they discussed America’s inadequate response to the coronavirus and practical solutions and data to navigate the crisis.
Organized by U.S. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of Brooklyn, the online discussion bore the ominous, yet hopeful, title, “Winter is Coming: Tackling the COVID-19 Pandemic.” It was informative, but for my current purpose, the fervent words of Dr. Wayne Riley, president of the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, were most relevant. He spoke of wanting to get the vaccine into the arms of as many Black and brown people as possible and said that if Tony Fauci “says it’s safe … I’m going to the bank with that.” And he said he would take the vaccine in the middle of New York’s popular Lenox Avenue to show that he’s not afraid of it.
Fauci, a hero to many and who recently received the 2020 Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health Award, has said he would take the vaccine once he is satisfied with the scientific data.
But we may owe people like the Rev. Stephan Brown, SVD, of St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, a whole lot more. Next Thursday, the priest will begin participating in a coronavirus vaccine trial for AstraZeneca. As an African-American with diabetes, a disease that puts him at high risk for serious repercussions from Covid-19, Brown says he wants to set an example and to be part of a cure. Participation of minorities in vaccine trials is seen as crucial in the development of a vaccine that is uniformly safe and effective.
Just think, if we were to get this settled – I’m talking about a vaccine for the coronavirus, not anything to do with fractious politicians – next Thanksgiving, we Americans might actually be able to feel the warmth of our loved ones’ touch and not have to console ourselves with cute emojis, Zoom celebrations, FaceTime and cold, virtual hugs.