Local African Americans publicly promoting COVID-19

Not throwing away their shot, clockwise from top left, are: Beverly Payne, Dr. Ericka Hayes, Donn Johnson, Dr. Kendra Holmes and Virvus Jones

'A little nudge or encouragement won’t hurt…'

“Why Are 1/3 of Black Americans Suddenly Anti-Vaxxers?”

This was the question Amber Ruffin asked her audience on her self-titled talk show last month. Anti-Vaxxers are people who disagree with the use of vaccines for a variety of reasons. Although the term has been used lately in regard to the coronavirus vaccine, the anti-vaxxer movement dates back to the 18th century, when mostly religious leaders in the U.S. described vaccines as the “devil’s work.” The movement is so pervasive that the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019, named the anti-vaccine movement as one of the top health threats globally.

Ruffin’s question was prompted by a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) study in December that reported “35% of Black adults would probably or definitely not get vaccinated even if it was determined to be safe by scientists and available for free.”

Before giving a brief but sordid history of crimes committed against African Americans, in the name of “science,” Ruffin answered her own question:

“(It’s) because there’s a long history of doctors experimenting on black people to figure out ways to help white people.”

With Black and Hispanic Americans dying at nearly three times the rate of whites from the coronavirus, according to the CDC, prominent people of color are making it their mission to not only get vaccinated but to publicly encourage other black people as well. A who’s-who list of notables including Tyler Perry, Al Roker, radio personalities Tom Joyner and Monica Pearson, former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris have all vowed to publicly encourage others to get immunized.

Apparently, the movement has gone mainstream with prominent St. Louisans using Facebook to spread the message by posting pictures of themselves getting inoculated.

Take that SARS-CoV-2!”

That succinct message was posted by Dr. Ericka Hayes, a pediatric physician with St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She included a photo of herself with a pink band-aid on her arm holding a sign that read: “Not throwing away my shot.”

“I did it to encourage others, especially knowing the vaccine hesitancy that can exist in my community,” Hayes said.

Dr. Kendra Holmes, Senior Vice President and COO for Affinia Health Care, not only posted a photo of herself getting vaccinated, she’s gotten permission from other well-known St. Louisans to use their photos as well. For Holmes it’s about trust-building: 

“When we started off with the pandemic in St. Louis, we lost a huge opportunity to build trust by not having testing in the black communities from the beginning. I knew the vaccines were coming and we had to be in those communities getting them tested.” 

Holmes made it a point to publicize Affinia’s testing efforts in black communities. Apparently, the health agency’s hard work is paying off:

“I have received feedback from folks on social media who say they will go ahead and get it (vaccinated). Our waiting rooms are full of black people wanting COVID-19 vaccines. That’s because health equity was a buzzword at Affinia long before it was with other health institutions,” Holmes explained.

Holmes said she’s purposely posting photos of black men getting their shots:

“It’s because we have difficulty getting them engaged in primary care in general. So, it’s always a plus if we can show a black man making his health a priority.”

Former St. Louis Comptroller, Virvus Jones, was a willing participant in Holmes’ unofficial social media inoculation campaign.

“I did not go to get a shot with the purpose of making an issue out of it,” Jones said. “I went to get the vaccination because I believe in science. I assumed Kendra was going to use it (the photo) to encourage people to get the vaccination and I’m fine with that.”

Donn Johnson, the retired KTVI & KMOV broadcaster, like Jones, is a believer in science. Since posting a photo of himself receiving the COVID-19 shot, Johnson said he’s heard from several fellow veterans who have done or will do likewise. Jones has had no qualms about the vaccine. He defined himself as “a product” of the 1950s and the “Salk (polio) vaccine days.” Johnson said he posted publicly to convince others:  

“I wanted to show people that I got the shot and convince them to get theirs. I didn’t fall out, I had no convulsions, I didn’t break out in a rash,” Johnson said, adding: “I suggest that if you have a chance to get the shot, go get it, man!”

Beverly (Bev) Payne is semi-retired. She works part time in the county as an assistant court clerk. Payne, who contracted the virus in July, has no time for Anti-Vaxxers. The photo she posted with her sleeve rolled getting injected, included a curt message:

"Don’t come on my page talking s**t, until u had COVID, you won’t understand?"

Payne said she respects everyone’s opinion but stressed: I’m not going to argue with them about their choice and I would appreciate the same respect.” 

Payne said her family’s onboard regarding vaccinations. Although she’s not interested in debating the topic, she did have rational for her Facebook post:

“A little nudge or encouragement won’t hurt anyone who may be a little skeptical or unsure.”

Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.

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