Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on with Black Californians still lagging behind on getting fully vaccinated, leaders in the state, including Gov. Newsom, are taking steps to push more people to get the shot. It is the most effective way, public health experts say, we will end the global public health crisis.

Across California’s 58 counties, about 60% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated. Black people account for about 5.8% of California’s population and 4% of those who have been vaccinated.

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, Newsom signed an executive order late last month to extend telehealth services. Then, last week, the governor also made vaccines mandatory for all students at public and private schools.

California’s school vaccination mandate will take effect for students enrolled in grades 7 through 12 one semester after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the vaccine for children 12 and older. The mandate will also apply to children under 12 after a vaccine is approved for that age group.

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom,” Newsom said. “Vaccines work.”

It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Last month, Black educators from around the state met at the Reef Restaurant in Long Beach. One of their items on their agenda was getting to the bottom of why some Black Californians remain reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The event, themed “Vaccine Hesitancy: Understanding the Science and Getting people to Trust It,” was a presentation held during a meeting co-hosted by the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAASA), along with along with the Los Angeles County Alliance of Black School Educators and the National Coalition.

In the process, participants said they wanted to provide some historical context.

Lillie Tyson Head, daughter of a survivor of the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study in Tuskegee, talked about the far-reaching damage caused by the controversial and unethical research project.

“The men were told that they had ‘bad blood’ and that they would receive treatment,” Head said. “They were never told they were in a study and the intent of the study.”

She said the federal government study fostered distrust among African Americans of the health care system.

“Forty-nine years after the study was exposed and 89 years after the study began, people, particularly in the African American communities, distrust certain medical treatment and medical research. And they are using this study as reasons for hesitating getting vaccinated or refusing to get vaccinated at all,” Head said.

Dr. Oliver Brooks, Chief Medical Officer at the Watts Healthcare Center, said there are built-in biases in the medical system that contribute to African American skepticism.

“There are studies showing that African Americans are less likely to get cardiac studies and procedures, stents versus just medication. They get less treatment for

pain when they come in with sickle cell and other injuries like femur fractures,” he said., “The mistrust with the medical system is valid. It is a decision based on primarily mistrust of the vaccine and mistrust with the healthcare system.”

Head also encouraged people to get vaccinated although she acknowledged that she understood why some Black people remain hesitant.

“How fortunate and blessed we are to know about the types of COVID vaccines that are available today,” Head said. “Why then should we deny ourselves getting vaccinated? We all have the opportunity to be informed, receive advice from professionals we trust and understand how we can protect ourselves by getting vaccinated.”

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.