Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, one of the foremost experts on COVID-19 and the president and CEO of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., provides vital information for those unclear about the still-emerging variants of the virus.
‘Lambda is a [World Health Organization] ‘Variant of Interest’ vs. Delta which is a ‘Variant of Concern,’” Dr. Hildreth explained.
“The difference being that the latter has been proven to have enhanced transmissibility or increased pathogenicity – a more severe disease,” he said. “Lambda has mutations that may cause such changes but [we do not have] enough data at this time.
Lambda remains relatively rare in the U.S. versus Delta, which has become the dominant strain within the last several weeks.
Dr. Hildreth and other medical experts mince few words in alerting the public that current vaccines offer strong protection against all strains while for vaccinated persons impacted by breakthrough infections, symptoms remain mild for most with few requiring hospitalization.
“Vaccinated persons who experience breakthrough infections with Delta variant can transmit virus to others. This is the basis for recommendation that all, unvaccinated and vaccinated, wear masks inside,” added Dr. Hildreth, who sat on the Food and Drug Administration board that approved the vaccinations.
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor report, COVID-19 vaccine uptake among Black/African American populations continues to lag in at least 40 states.
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, 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 U.S. It’s well above 93 percent of the cases, so it is the reason we see these upticks in cases. The vaccinations seem to be effective against this variant and that’s the good news,” Dr. Webb added, noting that the efficacy rate in the Pfizer vaccine dropped from 95 percent to 88 percent 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,” he concluded.
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 percent of all COVID-19 cases, despite making up just 12.5 percent of the U.S. population. Latinos make up about 28 percent of all cases, Dr. Webb noted.
For Blacks, it represents an improvement to some extent.
“It’s an improvement but any life lost from COVID-19 is preventable at this time because we have these effective vaccines,” Dr. Webb said, noting that about 13.8 percent of deaths from COVID-19 occur in the Black community.
Complacency, confidence and convenience are the “three C’s” that have prevented more African Americans from getting vaccinated, Dr. Webb shared.
“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 recounted.
“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,” he said.
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 revealed.
“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,” she said.
“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,” she noted.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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