Officials said the need to address this trend remains crucial because of the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths, a sharp decline in vaccinations, the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant, and the misinformation and myths that persist about the virus.
During a call with members of the African American media, health officials held a briefing to discuss vaccinations and the ‘We Can Do This’ campaign.
“The delta variant has become a major factor in what we’re dealing with. It’s almost a new pandemic,” said Dr. Cameron Webb, the senior policy advisor for Equity on the White House COVID-19 Response Team.
“People are getting sicker, and it’s become the dominant variant in the United States. It’s well above 93% of the cases, so it is the reason we see these upticks in cases,” Dr. Webb said.
Hospitalizations and more spread among the unvaccinated, including younger individuals, are getting sick because of the variant.
“The vaccinations do seem to be effective against this variant, and that’s the good news,” Dr. Webb said, noting that the efficacy rate in the Pfizer vaccine dropped from 95% to 88% when put against the Delta variant. “It’s such a critical moment in the Black community and all over this country when it comes to the vaccine.”
The discussion counted as part of the Department of Health and Human Services ‘We Can Do This’ campaign, a national initiative to increase public confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines while reinforcing basic prevention measures like mask-wearing and social distancing.
The latest figures from the Department of Health reveal that African Americans comprise 11.6 % of all COVID cases, despite making up just 12.5% of the U.S. population. Latinos make up about 28% of all cases. For Black people, it is an improvement to some extent.
“It’s an improvement, but any life lost from COVID is preventable at this time because we have these effective vaccines,” Dr. Webb said, noting that about 13.8% of deaths from COVID occur in the Black community.
Complacency, confidence, and convenience are the ‘three ‘cs’ that have prevented more African Americans from getting vaccinated, Dr. Webb offered.
“We hear a lot of people say, ‘I’m young, I’m healthy, I take care of myself, and I haven’t seen a lot of people get sick,’” Dr. Webb said. “Then you have the confidence factor, where people distrust the health system. Finally, there is the convenience factor. While vaccines are everywhere at this point, across communities, there are a lot of barriers to access, and that’s what has to change.”
Georgeta Dragoiu, a White House ‘presidential innovation fellow’ on the COVID-19 Public Education Campaign; Dr. Rachel Villanueva, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and president of the National Medical Association; and Dr. Michele Benoit-Wilson, WakeMed Health, Raleigh, North Carolina, also took part in the media briefing.
“I had to convince my own mother to get the vaccine,” Dr. Villanueva said. “The National Medical Association is proudly joining the ‘We Can Do This’ campaign to increase public confidence in the uptake of the vaccine while reinforcing mitigation strategies in vulnerable populations. “We are using facts and sciences and support informed decision-making about the vaccines. We want to protect our family and friends and protect those who can’t take the vaccine, such as children under 12.
“We want all eligible Black Americans to have their questions answered and to get vaccinated. Together, we can, we absolutely must, and we will do this.”