WASHINGTON — While Covid-19 continues to disproportionately affect communities of color, skepticism and mistrust about the vaccine are real issues to tackle, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
Latinos and Blacks account for hospitalization rates around three times that of whites and they are twice as likely to die from the disease, according to recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Their chances of being hospitalized and dying is considerably greater than the general population, so we have a responsibility to go into the community and to get information to them. We absolutely need to make sure they get vaccinated and get the correct information,” Fauci said Wednesday night, addressing Dominican American legislative and civic leaders at the third annual Dominicans on the Hill forum.
The event, held during Dominican Heritage Month, was organized by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., who in 2016 became the first Dominican American elected to the U.S. Congress.
The congressman himself tested positive for Covid-19 last month and quarantined for two weeks at his home, symptom-free and working remotely. Espaillat had tested positive just a few days after getting the second dose of the vaccination, which medical experts say is not necessarily unusual, since peak immunity does not happen immediately and could take up to two weeks after receiving the second dosage.
That’s why continuing to educate the community about wearing masks and practicing social distancing is so important even while advocating for getting the vaccination when available, Espaillat said.
“There have been doubts placed out there. That’s why we need to get modern day validators. That’s why it’s so important to have someone like Dr. Fauci speak, to hear from the No. 1 authority. It adds authenticity and legitimacy to it and that’s what our community needs. They need to hear these voices that come forward at this crucial time and say, go get vaccinated,” Espaillat told NBC News.
Fauci acknowledged there is a context to the trepidation that some in communities of color feel around the vaccine.
“They have understandable hesitancy because historically, minorities have not been treated well by the federal government in matters of research, so we must respect that hesitancy and explain to them that in fact, ethical constraints have been put in place that would make those types of unethical behaviors impossible," Fauci said. "So right now, the vaccines are safe and effective and we must get our communities of color to get vaccinated not only for their own good, but for their families and their community.”
The Dominicans on the Hill event was held virtually because of the pandemic. It included Dominican American NBA basketball player Karl-Anthony Towns, who lost his mother and several other family members to the virus and who himself tested positive, returning just earlier this month to the Minnesota Timberwolves after being away for nearly a month for treatment. He said this time has been “very scary.”
“Minorities suffer most because of the unavailability and we have to make sure the vaccine is widely available and equally available,” he said. Towns recently told Sports Illustrated that he “felt very guilty” for having access to treatment and resources not as accessible to others.
Medical experts say they recognize that the skepticism and mistrust about the coronavirus vaccines is partly due to their unprecedented rapid development — historically, vaccines have taken years, if not decades, from development to availability.
But the concern that corners must have been cut to make the vaccines so fast is incorrect, Fauci told the gathering.
“The speed is a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances made in vaccine technology. Safety was not compromised, nor was scientific integrity. The proof and the safety of the efficacy has been done with clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people, and the decision about safety and efficacy is made by an independent body of people who have no allegiances to any government or to any pharmaceutical company," he said. "It’s an independent board whose only responsibility is to the general public. I think if we explain that to people, hopefully that would rid them of some of their concerns."
On coronavirus vaccine outreach, Espaillat and his staff have been helping with calls for constituents with limited or no English, providing transportation to inoculation sites, and working with local and state officials to open sites that can provide vaccinations to a greater number of people, including the New York Armory and Yankee Stadium.
Aside from vaccine outreach, the forum discussed the economic impact of the pandemic, which has seen a significant loss of jobs among Latinos, especially in the service sector. It's also shuttered or put in jeopardy many businesses, particularly in the small-business sector.
Congress is currently poised to vote on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which includes an extension of unemployment supplemental payments, jobless benefits for the self-employed, funds for small businesses, and $20 billion for a national coronavirus vaccination program, among other provisions. Espaillat, who this week was appointed House Democratic Caucus senior whip, said that he is confident Congress will pass the measure.
“I believe we have the votes in the House and I believe we have the votes in the Senate, and that package has another round of PPPs, a significant amount of dollars for vaccinations, we have money to help open the schools, to help the municipalities, we have additional money for unemployment," he said, referring to the Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses. "This is a strong package. America deserves to have that kind of help. I hope we pass it in a bipartisan way, but if we can’t, we should pass it anyway.”