By Brittany Wallace, Contributing Writer

African American health leaders joined Covered California on December 22, 2020, for a roundtable discussion on COVID-19 vaccinations in the black community, and the importance of health coverage. The discussion was part of a coordinated effort to increase the Black community’s confidence in the safety of taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

Executive director of Covered California, Peter V. Lee, explained that “The pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on our lives, particularly among communities of color.” This is likely due to Black and Brown communities having limited access to healthcare and health insurance. 

Blacks are also getting sicker due to underlying health issues that are common in the Black community, such as diabetes, hypertension, COPD and asthma. 

One of the hardest hit regions in the state is Los Angeles, where officials at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital say the COVID-19 infection rate of 25 percent is more than double the county rate. “We have more COVID-19 patients in our hospital than facilities that are three to four times our size do, and while we exceeded our surge-plan capacity a few days ago, the patients continue to come,” said Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of the hospital. “More than 80 percent of our staff are people of color, and we have vaccinated hundreds of our front-line workers. We need to show the Black community that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and encourage them to get it when they can.”

The California Department of Public Health reports that the rate of death associated with COVID-19 among Black Californians (7.1 percent) is nearly double the infection rate (4 percent). In contrast, however, a Pew Research Center Survey shows that only 42 percent of African Americans reported that they would “definitely” take the COVID-19 vaccine, while 83 percent of Asians and 63 percent of Hispanics reported the same. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey also found that willingness of Black adults (62 percent) to get vaccinated was lower than White (73 percent) and Hispanic (71 percent) groups.

This data is in alignment with historical skepticism from the Black community toward health experts, as the medical needs of the Black community have largely been ignored or not prioritized at all. 

“This distrust is deeply rooted and based on injustices and unethical treatment that many Black Americans have experienced in our medical institutions,” said Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California surgeon general. “It is imperative that we engage with communities to address their concerns so that all of our communities can feel confident that these vaccines are safe and that they are our key to defeating this virus.”

Black doctors and nurses across the nation have come together to create the Black Coalition of Against Covid-19, to increase awareness in the black community about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, a historically Black school in Los Angeles, and member of, Dr. David Carlisle explained that  “While it is understandable to question things, the science is clear: We are dealing with a deadly pandemic,” said Carlisle. “COVID-19 kills, and the only solution is a vaccination.”

Dr. James West of Oakland Health Community Center shared that there are approximately 14,563 positive COVID-19 cases in the city of Oakland alone. Dr. West emphasized the importance of thorough hand washing, social distancing, eliminating social gathering, and getting vaccinated.  He also advised that the COVID-19 vaccine was created in record time due to the imperative need; and that the science behind it has proven the vaccine to be safe and effective.

Covered California is encouraging Blacks to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it has been made available. Peter V. Lee emphasizes that if Californians do not have insurance, now is the time to get it. A Special Enrollment Period was opened in March of this year, and continued enrollment is anticipated, as Covered California wants to make healthcare coverage available to all Californians that are in need. 

Information on health insurance coverage through Covered California can be found at www.Getcovered2021.org.