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by Darryl Sellers

With spring in the air and summer breezes soon to follow, everyone is likely anxious to their pre-pandemic lives back. However, the United States isn’t quite out of the woods before it conquers COVID-19. Vaccine hesitancy and variants are still hanging in the balance, which could hinder our path to herd immunity.   

Staying diligent as communities of color work to beat COVID-19 was the key theme during a recent Facebook Live event. The Black Coalition Against COVID (BCAC) hosted a town hall which was a collaboration among and between Asian American and Pacific Islander, Hispanic, American Indian, and African American communities to fight the virus together. 

Minority organizations and communities that partnered with the BCAC include: the Ad Council , American Public Health Association, A.T. Still University, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), Association of American Indian Physicians, Association Asian Pacific Community Health Organization (APPCHO), CDC Foundation, Health Alliance Network, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project, National Black Nurses Association, National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Medical Association, National Urban League, Rual Health Service Provider Network, Salud America! Program, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the White House COVID-19 Response Team. 

Dr. Reed Tuckson, a co-founder of the BCAC, kicked off late April’s Making It Plain event by telling the more than 95,000 viewers that we’re very close to reaching a historical moment to defeat this more-than-year-long pandemic. But he reminded viewers that it’s crucial for communities of color to keep forging forward by doubling down, practicing preventative measures, and keeping our guards up. 

Echoing this sense of urgency and the ethnic community’s need to be committed to push through the pandemic was Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. He used a football metaphor that set the tone for the 90-minute multicultural collaboration event to fight COVID-19. 

“It’s extremely important that we get into the endzone here,” Dr. Benjamin said. “If we don’t do this right, we’ll find ourselves on the 15-yard line bobbling the ball and losing the game. So we have to really work hard to get there.”  

The arduous work to get into the endzone and beat the pandemic is facing President Joe Biden’s Administration, which has a new goal of administering at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to 70 percent of American adults by July 4th and also have 160 million adults fully vaccinated by then in hopes of getting our country closer to herd immunity by this summer.

One of the leaders who is working very hard to help President Biden’s push to end the pandemic is Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. He’s a fearless advocate of community-based efforts that began one year ago in the battle against COVID-19. Morial, who recently received his second vaccine shot to fight COVID-19 , said mobile sites, mass vaccination sites, and community-based sites are some of the important programs that must continue in our community’s fight to beat the virus. He also spoke about another key initiative that will be vital in getting more shots into the arms of our communities of color.

“The National Urban League will soon initiate its own community-based effort, working in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control in 25 plus communities to encourage people and to provide information around the COVID vaccines as well as immunizations broadly defined,” Morial said. “In the end, it’s about healthy communities. It’s about safe communities. And it’s about getting past this pandemic.”  

Charysse Nunez, the insights lead for the Ad Council’s COVID-19 campaign, said another key to beating the pandemic is to provide the best possible information to guide conversations in all minority communities. According to the Ad Council’s hot-off-the-press data from early May, approximately 50–60 percent of Black Americans have been or intend to get vaccinated, which is on par with the general population. Nunez said overall, 25–30 percent of our communities of color are still waiting in the balance with a wait-and-see mindset. 

Nunez said some people in our ethnic communities in the wait-and-see category, are still not convinced that vaccine safety and efficacy outweigh the risks of taking the vaccine. She told the audience about the importance of having trusted messengers to provide education with clear and digestible information that addresses the core questions from our communities of color. Nunez said these are some of the strong pillars that will help build vaccine confidence.

“Ultimately, empowering with information,” Nunez said, “really inspire consideration by creating a surround sound of facts again that confirm safety, elevate testimonials and personal stories to help demonstrate the protective benefits and the outcomes of getting vaccinated. Really building a cultural consensus and connection in partnership with Medical professionals, I mean they do have a great deal of weight in validating that the vaccines are effective.” 

Sharing some of the good springtime news about the pandemic was Dr. Cameron Webb of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. He said the United States is trending in the right direction, including a recent decrease of 19 percent in the number of COVID-19 related cases. Dr. Webb credits vaccination programs across the country for this progress. He also used a football analogy to remind all communities of color that they must continue to move forward during the pandemic’s make-or-break moment and as we make gradual strides toward normalcy. It’s a battle we will win if ALL communities continue to team up to defeat the virus. 

“Just know, we’re not spiking the football,” Dr. Webb said. “From our perspective, we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot more people to protect, a lot more lives to save, and we’re going to keep working.”