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New Orleans residents who received the vaccine share the importance of reaching herd immunity

by Kai Davis, New Orleans Tribune Contributor 
Photos courtesy Kenya Rollins, Tierni Savoie, and Xavier University of Louisiana

President Joe Biden recently announced that his administration would achieve a goal of 100 million COVID-19 vaccine shots this month. By March 19, the Centers for Disease Control’s distribution tracker confirmed the White House had met its goal to deliver on more vaccines. And during his first national primetime address, the President declared that he would direct states, tribes, and territories to make all adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine by May 1.

In mid-March, about 12 percent of Americans were fully vaccinated and about 21 percent of Americans had received their first dosage, according to the CDC. In Louisiana, around 12 percent of the state-wide population has been vaccinated, with vaccination rates around 15 percent in Orleans Parish and 14 percent in Jefferson Parish according to the Louisiana Department of Health’s vaccination tracker. Louisiana is also among the states with the least missed appointments for second shots. Some 2,123 health providers are working to vaccinate the state’s 4.6 million residents.

“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to receive my first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine early in the release, December 20, 2020,” said Dr. Keith C. Ferdinand, a clinical cardiologist and professor at Tulane University’s School of Medicine. Ferdinand said as a physician and scientist, he reviewed the Phase 3 data of clinical trials research, which examined the results from trials from the 40,000 people reported to get the vaccine versus a placebo. 

“These data plus the fact I didn’t think we had any other way to get out of this pandemic, convinced me of the need for anyone who could get the vaccine, should get the vaccine,” said Ferdinand, who is a member of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. 

“Facts are facts. The available U.S. vaccines are all safe and very effective to prevent hospitalization and death.”

The state’s goal is now to get the vaccine more widely and easily available for African Americans who lag behind other groups in vaccination rates, particularly due to access. Ferdinand is working alongside a statewide coalition, the Louisiana Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities (LA-CEAL) to improve access and address vaccine hesitancy in the Black community. 

“The Black community was hit hard with higher hospitalization and death,” Ferdinand said. “It is estimated that African Americans will lose 2.7 years of life expectancy compared to 0.8 in the overall population (due to the virus),” he said. 

Dr. Ferdinand said he has checked out the science, and only less than 10 out of a million shots resulted in a serious allergic reaction to vaccination. 

“There’s no need to wait. The vaccines are well-tolerated,” Ferdinand added.  

Residents Share Their Vaccine Experiences

A recent mobile vaccination event on the Xavier University of Louisiana campus.

As more residents in New Orleans get vaccinated, they are able to share their experiences with relatives and neighbors. In the first phase of vaccination, frontline health workers and allied health workers, in addition to those aged 65 and older with pre-existing conditions were able to get the vaccine at the start of 2021. By March, the state opened up vaccination to anyone over the age of 16 with a listed pre-existing condition. By April, the vaccine will be open to all groups. 

“The vaccination is important. Once (we reach) herd immunity, it will relieve rush and worry,” said Carla Lewis, the reading teacher and technology coordinator at Fannie C. Williams Charter school. Many local public-school teachers became eligible for vaccination in March 2021 in New Orleans. 

The educator sees getting vaccinated as a critical step in fully reopening in-person learning 

“Kindergartners are only allowed a 15-minute mask break, no socialization, walking into class seated in the same seat, only can move from their seats to use the restroom, must wash hands every hour, and if one person comes back positive, everyone around has to quarantine,” Lewis said. 

As neighboring states of Mississippi and Texas lift mask mandates, some Louisianans say the urgency to get the vaccine and stop the spread of COVID-19 has increased. Louisiana has had roughly 440,000 infection cases and 9,955 deaths state-wide since the start of the pandemic, according to The New York Times COVID-19 tracker.  

“I received the Moderna vaccine, the first dose on Jan. 6, and the second dose on Feb. 3,” said Kenya Rollins, a registered pharmacist and the pharmacy manager at Ascension DePaul Community Health Centers in New Orleans East. “It’s important for everyone to get vaccinated to help stop the pandemic, along with wearing masks and social distancing,” Rollins said.

Rollins said she is encouraging her pharmacy patients by getting the vaccine first and working to get them vaccinated in the current eligibility phase. 

“With Biden administrating more doses, we will be working hard, but it will be for the betterment of our community,” Rollins said. 

The pandemic has impacted communities of color disproportionately. The CDC found that in COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., the percentage of deaths in communities of color is higher than their percentage in the population. 

“I think the Black community in itself should get the vaccine. We and Hispanic – Latinx people are getting infected and are dying the most,” said Naya McGill, a graduating senior at Louisiana State University, who said she will be receiving her vaccine soon.  

While residents shared they may still have some concerns about symptoms regarding COVID-19 vaccines, many who have been vaccinated say the side effects have been minimal and common to regular vaccines.

“It’s one of the safest vaccinations. Yes, there may be side effects, such as a fever or feeling lethargic. That’s going to happen,” said Tierni Savoie, an LSU Health School of Nursing student, who received the Pfizer vaccine. “The most basic importance is its aim to stop the virus and control the pandemic. I’m proud that I got the vaccine because I want to be able to get back to my normal life, be with my friends without a mask and not be hindered.”