By Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson
We are now more than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a menace to our communities. We all have loved ones, friends, neighbors, and colleagues who were affected by the virus. People have lost jobs, lost lives, and lost time. In Texas alone, more than 47,000 people have died. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Rockwall.
And while COVID-19 has impacted every city and community across the United States, it has disproportionately harmed Black and Hispanic communities.
According to national, state, and local data — data that I pushed Dallas County to report early in the pandemic — people of color experience higher infection and mortality rates.
But the end is in sight thanks to vaccines. All three approved COVID-19 vaccines — Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson — give us a shot to beat this pandemic.
The vaccines are effective in protecting us and preventing the spread of the virus. However, this effectiveness can only be achieved if enough people are vaccinated. That’s how we get to herd immunity. But therein lies a problem. Despite the negative impacts on our communities, last year, one Pew Research poll showed that nationally, only 42% of African Americans. were likely to get the vaccine. For contrast, 83% of Asian Americans in the same poll said they were likely to get the vaccine.
Thankfully, that number increased to 61% of African Americans in a new Pew poll last month. But it’s still not high enough.
I understand the hesitance of some. Historically, African Americans in our country have been abused in the name of science, which was actually pseudoscience. The Tuskegee experiments were an atrocious breach of basic human rights. Growing up in West Dallas and Oak Cliff, I heard the horror stories. These awful and unethical incidents bred generations of mistrust in medical institutions. And today, misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines spreads rapidly on social media and harms the efforts to achieve herd immunity through vaccinations.
It is likely that the apparent speed at which the vaccines were developed has contributed to questions of safety and clinical due process. But based upon the words of clinical scientists and available evidence, the expedited process in the development of the COVID-19 vaccines under Operation Warp Speed does not suggest that the vaccines skipped any scientific verification protocols involved in its production and clinical trials. The expedited process is simply attributed to technological advancements that had taken decades to develop.
Our current health system has institutional checks and balances to ensure the safety of pharmaceuticals distributed for nationwide and global use. For COVID-19 vaccines, these same checks and balances were applied in the evaluation process to ensure the vaccine’s safety. The clinical trials consisted of diverse groups of people. And post-trial, the vaccines proved just as effective and safe among Blacks and Hispanics when compared to other groups.
In other words, the vaccines are safe and effective for all of us.
That’s why I got my vaccine from UT Southwestern when I became eligible. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a former nurse, has also received her vaccine and is encouraging people to take it as well.
Yes, receiving the vaccine could make your arm sore or even make you feel ill for a day or so. But this short-term issue is far better than COVID-19, which has killed more than 500,000 people and counting across the country.
I am urging you to get the vaccine for your own safety and for the safety of your community. Let’s rid ourselves of this menace and get our lives back so we can focus on giving ourselves and our neighbors a real opportunity to thrive in the years to come.
Residents who are age 50 and older are now eligible to receive the vaccine in Texas. Anyone who is over 16 with serious underlying health issues is also eligible. To register for the vaccine, visit DallasCountyCovid.org or call 1-855-IMMUNE9 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.