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Dark history stands between priority populations getting vaccinated against COVID-19

Posted at 6:18 PM, Dec 10, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The first thought might be the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

Or maybe Henrietta Lacks.

Perhaps California's eugenic sterilization program?

The history between Black and Brown communities and the medical profession is long and it is dark.

This history is what may stand in the way of those same communities — which have been disproportionately killed by COVID-19 — getting vaccinated against the deadly virus.

“It kind of scares me. It scares me.”

Arica Rouse works in the healthcare field, and as a Black woman, she says there is no good solution in the fight against the virus ahead.

“All of the damage and the grief and the trauma that this pandemic has caused, it gives me a lot of pause.”

Many people of color we spoke with say they’d like to see the long-term effects of the shot before they take it — even if that means it takes longer for life to return to normal.

It’s, in part, because of the ingredients that make up most vaccines, but not this one, contain some strands of the virus itself.

“You have to give me the disease to protect you against it, right? But we’re only hearing “you have to give us Covid.” I think that’s a big part of it, too,” said Rouse.

Now, doctors who work in communities of color in Buffalo are working to overcome the hurdle of distrust, even in their own facilities.

“Honestly, starting with our staff,” said Dr. Myron Glick of Jericho Road Community Health Center. “Our staff is so representative of the community. What we’re finding, even at Jericho Road, is some of our staff are nervous about taking it.”

Dr. Glick said that’s why he will be first in line. An example will be key for his community and staff.

“I’m happy to be at the front of the line because I believe this pandemic is real. I know it’s killing 2,000 to 3,000 people a day across our country. We’re taking care of people who are very sick at Jericho Road, in hospitals, and we’re seeing the devastation in our communities.”

Rouse said having a connection with someone who’s been vaccinated would help overcome the hesitancy.

“I want (to talk to) someone who’s had the vaccine, and I want to know their day to day after they got that vaccine.”

Dr. Raul Vazquez, CEO and President of Urban Family Practice added that the levels of death and distrust are running rampant in urban parts of the region.

“If you go to the UK 74% of people want to take it. If you come to the States — 60% And if you come into our communities — 20%”

But, Dr. Vazquez is frustrated with how the vaccine rollout is happening at the local level.

The recently announced Vaccine Task Forceled by Erie County is headed up by two Businessmen, not doctors, said Vazquez.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz responded to the criticism Thursday saying the business aspect is what’s needed now.

“When we talk about the logistical operation, there’s not a single doctor that’s handled the hundreds of thousands of doses that are going to be administrated,” he said.

Poloncarz added that doctors from the Erie County Health Department are being consulted at this stage and an executive summary that will be continuously updated is set to be released in the coming days.

That document will detail how the vaccine rollout will happen in Erie County once the first doses arrive this weekend.

Poloncarz said it will be a long time before the general public — including those in the Black and Brown community even have access to the vaccine because priority will be nursing homes, healthcare workers, and elderly residents.

Both doctors Glick and Vazquez said they understand the need to have a logistical savvy, but are hopeful their communities are prioritized in the long run.

“Want to ensure that the communities that we serve, that Jericho Road serves, that Dr. Vazquez’s office serves, will be represented and remembered as this vaccine is distributed,” said Glick.

“We’ve been in this area for about 60 years. We’re not new in the game, and we would never guide the community in the wrong way for any purpose,” added Vazquez. “So there’s no conflict of interest here.

These communities — we’ve made investments here and we want to make sure they don’t get left out of the line.”