Like many African Americans, he was very concerned about the Covid-19 vaccine. But last week, my wife and I completed our vaccination course. My experience as a pastor and leader in the black community led me to believe that it was the right thing to do.
Opinion polls show that African Americans have the most doubts of any group about the Covid vaccine. These reserves are rooted in centuries of mistreatment, as well as illegal and unethical experimentation by the nation’s medical establishment. In the 19th century, James Marion Sims, the man considered the father of modern gynecology, conducted dozens of experiments on enslaved women without anesthesia. The notorious “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Black Men” continued in the 1970s.
The results in health care are not encouraging either. African Americans have twice the infant mortality rate than whites. African American women are more than three times more likely than their white counterparts to die from pregnancy-related causes. The death rate from breast cancer is 42% higher for black women than for white women. My father died when I was just 16 years old, in large part thanks to misdiagnosed and abused hypertension. Disturbing news has emerged during the pandemic about unequal treatment in American healthcare facilities.
Unfounded rumors about an attempt to use the vaccine to wipe out the black community have gained popularity among my fellow African Americans. I understand the widespread mistrust, but the painful truth is that blacks need the vaccine more than anyone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say we are nearly three times more likely than whites to die from Covid.
As a minister, I have witnessed these deaths personally. I have buried many friends and church members. At the peak of the pandemic, I regularly received reports of two or three deaths per day. I have struggled to comfort and counsel her survivors, most of whom were unable to be in the same room with their loved ones as they took their last breath. Over the weekend, I lost an old friend and colleague to the virus. But I believe that the God who brought us out of slavery, Jim Crow, the Spanish flu and lynchings can also guide us through this crisis.
As a father, grandfather, pastor, and community leader, I understood the importance of understanding the vaccine. That meant getting the facts up front from the most skilled scientists and doctors. A panel discussion that I organized in early January with several of the nation’s leading infectious disease experts, including Anthony Fauci, Kizzmekia Corbett, and Yale Professor of Medicine Onyema Ogbuagu, provided a detailed overview of the vaccine development process. Particularly helpful were the details provided by Dr. Corbett, a young black woman and key scientist behind the development of Moderna’s new mRNA vaccine.
I received invaluable advice from my lifelong physician, a black woman and a member of my church who has received the vaccine. Believing in the multitude of tips, I also spoke with several leading infectious disease specialists here in the Dallas area, a metropolis that is home to many world-renowned healthcare facilities.
Finally, it all came down to common sense. I am a 63-year-old black male, slightly overweight with an underlying health problem. The vaccine has been shown to reduce the chances of people like me getting the virus. To date, the side effects of the vaccine have been minimal or nonexistent. It’s true that no one knows anything about possible long-term side effects. But here’s what we do know: the virus has killed more than 500,000 people in this country alone, but the vaccine has yet to kill a single person. Additionally, there is a wealth of information about persistent debilitating symptoms among those who survive the virus.
I don’t consider myself an advocate for the vaccine. That is a personal decision. But you should not make a critical personal decision without information or without information. In an age when the line between fact and fiction is gradually eroding, it has never been more important to prevent people from being swayed by misinformation or the myriad falsehoods that are spreading across the Internet.
Here’s my unsolicited advice: do your own research. Pray. Check out multiple trusted sources, from your personal physician to federal agencies like the CDC. Your sincere search for the truth could save your life and that of your loved ones.
Bishop Jakes is senior pastor of Potter’s House, a 30,000-member church based in Dallas.
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8