I’m Black, and I Chose to Receive the Covid-19 Vaccine

I thought long and hard about it, but I’m here to prove that it’s not that bad

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 500,000 people and infected almost 30 million people in the United States alone. Even with these extraordinarily high numbers, cases have been disproportionately amplified within communities of color. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native people had an age-adjusted Covid-19 hospitalization rate about 5.3 times that of non-Hispanic White people. Covid-19 hospitalization rates among non-Hispanic Black people and Hispanic or Latino people were both about 4.7 times the rate of non-Hispanic White people.

Fortunately, within the past several months, three vaccines have been approved for distribution throughout the United States. For now, if you are a frontline worker, have certain preexisting conditions, or have resources and connections to move you to the front of the line, you can get vaccinated. Sounds good, right? We can all get the shot in our arms and back to living the life we once knew.

That sounds like an easy fix, and most news reports make it seem as if most Americans are eager to get the vaccination. But that’s not the case; not everyone is excited. Even with the high infection rate, there is a lack of trust in getting vaccinated within multiple demographic subsets, including the Black community.

To fully understand why there might be skepticism among Black people about the vaccine, we must look back at one of the many pivotal moments in history that sowed distrust in the U.S. health care system.

Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and CDC recruited Black men to participate in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Participants were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government — but the secret purpose of this highly unethical study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis.

The Tuskegee experiment is one of the main reasons some Black people question everything medical professionals may tell them to do. On the one hand, you know you need to seek medical advice if you don’t feel well — but on the other hand, you wonder if your doctor has your best interests in mind. Do they even care if you live or die? They took an oath to give care to anyone who needs it and should do everything in their power to save you if you are in medical danger, but how do you know if they give a shit about you?

After all, that same code of ethics existed during the Tuskegee experiment, and we see how that ended. These are the questions Black people think about when it comes to the health care system. It gives us the stereotypical reputation of not going to the doctor when we should — especially Black men.

This virus plays a significant role in taking lives, whether there are underlying conditions or not. I wasn’t willing to take that chance.

Let’s be clear: I was not a fan of any vaccine before Covid-19. I didn’t trust vaccines because of my people’s history with having something injected into our arms that we knew very little about. I’ve turned down the flu shot every time it has been offered to me; it’s etched in my mind that it would probably do more harm than help. I’ve asked doctors and nurses several questions about why they had to inject my babies with certain things when they were born. What’s the purpose? How do I know that it won’t hurt them? What happens if it does? I didn’t understand the need for vaccines until Covid-19 hit us.

When I first heard about Covid-19 in late 2019, it seemed like something serious, but I didn’t think it would rapidly affect the United States. I just felt that it would disappear with time. Soon after, I read about a few cases in the United States, but I still thought it would eventually vanish. Those few cases turned into a few hundred, then grew to thousands — causing sports to shut down, companies to close, and schools to reshape themselves for the next year and counting. Amid these shutdowns and increasing cases, I saw social media posts from old friends with “RIP” to those we lost to the virus. At that point, things began to get scary for me.

When you go from thinking that this virus won’t grow to be a big deal to losing someone from it, your whole perspective changes. I started to worry about my wife and kids, how I could protect them. We had to make plans for the possibility of somebody in our family catching this virus. What would we do? How would we function?

Listen, I know a lot of people think this thing is “just the flu.” But when people you know drop dead from it, your perspective changes. Many argued that Covid-19 is just for older people, until they heard the reports of kids dying from it. Then you have those who strongly believe that people who have underlying conditions are the only ones dying. It seems that this virus plays a significant role in taking lives, whether there are underlying conditions or not. I wasn’t willing to take that chance.

The work I do currently is considered to be governmental or state-level work. I help many people, and as a result, I may have to interact with strangers in close proximity. Because of this, I was allowed to receive the Covid-19 vaccine if I wanted it.

Honestly, doubts immediately popped into my mind when presented with this opportunity, but those thoughts quickly subsided. I thought about how things have changed since the Tuskegee experiment. Yes, there is still racism. And racist people would love nothing more than to see the demise of any other race in America that isn’t their own. But I don’t believe scientists created this vaccine to inject harm into people as a sick experiment to tear down another race. I have seen scientists work on this vaccine. I have also seen every background of person receiving it, which put me at ease a bit more.

It took me less than 24 hours after consulting with my wife and kids to decide that I would take advantage of this opportunity. I love my family more than anything, so this was a pretty easy decision for me. I would get the Pfizer vaccine, proven to be 95% effective against the virus.

I received my first dose on January 28, 2021. The only side effect I had was fatigue for about three days after the injection. I received my second dose on February 18. The following day I had more side effects. If I had to describe it, it would be similar to the flu, without the snot and stuffiness. The same fatigue that I felt after the first injection only tripled, with a side of chills. The good thing about the second dose was that the side effects only lasted for about a day and a half. Overall, I feel great and am back to my usual self.

The bottom line is that everyone has to make the best decision for themselves when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine. I feel that it’s imperative to share my experience as a Black man because of the stigma surrounding vaccines in our community. If you think this vaccine could be more helpful than harmful, I would advise you to get it.

We have an accessible tool that can fight against our generation’s biggest pandemic — we should utilize it to better our quality of life.

I am here to prove it’s not that bad. Every day when I log on to social media, I see more discouragement than encouragement to take the vaccine among the Black people I follow. And yet, there are never any alternative solutions or suggestions to get the numbers down in our community.

Medicine has changed, and we should all consider getting the vaccine to slow the spread.

Tony Jones is a freelance writer that covers race, culture, music, and sports across multiple platforms.

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