The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the globe for almost two years now. After over five million deaths worldwide with over 767,000 in the United States alone, a shot economy, 7.5 million people losing unemployment benefits and children falling behind due to remote learning, the country is trying to envision a new normal. A major component of this is people being willing to get the COVID-19 vaccines courtesy of Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. But these vaccines have been met with opposition instead of open arms, especially from Black women.
Even though the limited research has shown that Black women are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 complications than whites, many of them are standing firm in their resistance to being vaccinated.
For Marissa Monteiro, her medical history is complex. Since her teenage years, she experienced a variety of symptoms, but doctors have never been able to give her a proper diagnosis. For years she has been experiencing fevers, fatigue, heart palpitations, headaches and other symptoms and doesn’t know why. Plus, there were times she would have to see two to six doctors to get an answer about one symptom. When it comes to believing in medical professionals and public health experts, her trust has run thin.
Since she is a lawyer, she decided to get the first dose but it didn’t interact well with her unknown pre-existing condition. So now, she is understandably skeptical about going back for her second dose.
“I’ve never gotten great healthcare,” she said. “I’ve never had a doctor take me seriously. I’ve never had a doctor that’s like, listen to every single thing that’s wrong with me and believe me and has actually given me the time of day to just be like, maybe it’s something else.”
Mattie Collinswood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania actually had COVID-19 in February 2020. After beating the virus and not experiencing any post-COVID symptoms, she doesn’t understand why she should get the vaccine if this virus is beatable. Even though experts have deemed the Delta variant deadlier and have been watching the Lamba and Mu strands, Collinswood feels that if she recovered from one, she can beat them all.
“I don’t think it is safe to even have it yet, honestly,” she said. “For a normal vaccine, it takes like 10 years to really get it right. They came up with this in less than a year.”
That’s actually not true according to Dr. Brandi Freeman, physician at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado and assistant professor of pediatrics and associate vice chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Colorado Medicine.
“The thing that is important to recognize is that Pfizer and Moderna are using the mRNA technology that actually has been around for about 20 years, they just haven’t had a reason to use it yet,” she said. “And so once they isolated the virus, they were able to recognize that it was going to be a global pandemic, it became clear that there was available [medical] technology that we had available to us that we just hadn’t taken advantage of before.”
While the different strands alarmed others, Collinswood remains confident her body could withstand whatever COVID throws her way.
“I’m taking it like I took the other one,” she said. “Yes there’s different variants but there’s also different variants of the flu.”
The lack of research available is what makes another woman named Latriece James of Queens, New York hesitant towards getting vaccinated. She was working as a medical assistant during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and saw first hand how fatal COVID-19 is. She’s not against getting vaccinated, but wants to wait and see if the number of COVID cases goes down now that vaccinated people are the only ones let into public places.
“That’s my biggest thing,” she said. “I’m going to be watching those numbers because I want to see how [how effective the vaccine is] among vaccinated people and if there will still be positive cases.”
The vaccine itself essentially gives your body “a blueprint for what this virus looks like,” Dr. Freeman noted.
“So should you come in contact with it, your body is able to use its antibodies and it’s able to use its immune system to then attack it and kill it before your body is ravaged by all the other things that it can do.”
The research that is available shows that Black people are more vulnerable to COVID-19. The Center for Disease Control noted that “Black Americans are 2.6 times more likely to contract COVID-19, 4.7 times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of contracting the virus, and 2.1 times more likely to die from COVID-19–related health issues.” A Harvard University study that analyzed COVID-19 deaths by race and sex in Georgia and Michigan, found that Black women died at more than three times the rates of white men and Asian men.
Despite President Joe Biden’s crackdown on the unvaccinated, people of color still remain the least likely to get vaccinated. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Black and Hispanic people remain less likely than their white counterparts to have received a vaccine, leaving them at increased risk, particularly as the variant spreads.” In a Pew Research Center poll that surveyed people regarding their intentions to get vaccinated, only 42 percent of Black participants said they were willing to get the vaccine.
Breakthrough cases are also causing folks to double down on their resistance to get vaccinated. Why get vaccinated if you can still contract the vaccine?
When MADAMENOIRE asked Dr. Freeman about why people should get the vaccine, she said the main reason was to prevent death and long-term effects of the virus. The CDC even pointed out that though breakthrough cases are possible, the vaccines can prevent death and hospitalization. If you are immunocompromised, a breakthrough case can happen because you “may not always build adequate levels of protection after an initial 2-dose primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series.” Therefore contracting a breakthrough case isn’t necessarily correlated with he effectiveness of the vaccine.
In Monteiro’s case, her immune system is struggling as is, and since she falls in the category of being immunocompromised, she can’t help but wait it out.
“There’s no guarantee that I’ll never get sick from the vaccine,” Monteiro said. “I had the same chances of getting sick while vaccinated that I would if I just had a mask in a public place. So I don’t see what the differences are.”
The more James and I spoke, the more she pondered on how her decisions around how the vaccine would affect her 11-year-old son. She’s more concerned about protecting her son from the virus and ensuring he can have a full life. In order to prepare for what her son will go through when he is vaccinated, she decided she would get vaccinated by the end of our talk.
“I think I am going to get the vaccine for my son,” she said. “Because I think eventually, children are going to have to get it to be in school. And I would rather get it now to see how my body is affected. So when he gets it, I already know. I don’t want him to be forced to get it and I haven’t gotten it yet.”
As a doctor, Dr. Freeman said COVID-19 is more frightening than anything because it “is one of these smartest viruses that we have seen in a long time.”
“The reason we do the flu vaccine every year is because it does mutate every year. COVID is mutating faster than that. And so eventually if we keep allowing the virus to replicate and mutate, it can get smarter than our bodies in terms of fixing it. And that’s what’s really scary to me.”
Then, there’s the booster shot, which is also making people double down on not being vaccinated. Dr. Freeman said the booster shot gives “a jolt to your immune system to remind your body how to fight COVID.” If the vaccine is so effective, why is a booster shot recommended?
“The COVID-19 virus is circulating right now and it is able to be out and learn,” Dr. Freeman said. “It is out here and able to change and figure out what it needs to do to survive, because the virus’s goal is to survive as well. So it is changing rapidly and so we have to be more ready to fight.”
For Black women, the consequences of not getting the vaccine are more severe than that of other racial groups. Black women are already faced with misogynoir, systemic racism, disproportionate health issues and economic disparities. With the threats of joblessness, homelessness, and an eviction moratorium that can end at any moment, Black women will endure the harshest consequences for making decisions about their health.