While the COVID-19 vaccines are being administered to some health care workers and staff and residents at nursing homes in Maryland, the general population will have to wait at least a half-year before taking a shot in the arm.

Some Prince George’s County residents interviewed aren’t too keen about having that medicine flow through their bodies.

“I just don’t know right now. I want to see what is going on and see the results from the vaccine,” said Dunston Melville, who owns an auto body shop in Beltsville.

Faye Martin Howell of Landover would take the vaccine, except if the ingredients include penicillin which she’s allergic to.

“If it doesn’t have that in it, then I would be willing to take it,” said Martin Howell, who serves on the county’s Democratic Central Committee. “I am willing to do whatever I can to keep myself and others safe.”

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ingredient list for the Pfizer vaccine, penicillin isn’t listed. But the FDA has warned in extensive backgrounds documents about potential side effects from the vaccine.

The majority-Black jurisdiction continues to account for the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. Johns Hopkins University’s dashboard recorded Prince George’s among the top 60 counties and cities of confirmed cases in the nation.

Some in the Black community remain skeptical in taking a vaccine that some believe was produced too quickly.

They link white disdain and ambivalence to black health with two documented examples of white maltreatment of blacks in the health care arena. In one episode, set in the rural south, public health officials in Tuskegee, Ala. deliberately mislead Black men to believe they were being treated for syphilis in when they were, in fact, being monitored as untreated syphilis sufferers between 1932 until 1972.

In another case, in 1951, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore harvested cells, without permission, from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman being treated for cancer. The cells possessed a rare and remarkable trait and continued to produce for decades outside her body, resulting in scores of medical research breakthroughs for which Lacks and her family were thinly compensated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 became first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The agency described it as a novel, or new, coronavirus because it’s never been previously seen in humans but animals.

Health officials determined the virus spread quickly throughout America because of human droplets from the mouth. Recommendations, and in some cases mandates, for Americans to wear masks, maintain six feet of distance from each other and wash hands, or use hand sanitizer when a sink isn’t available.

As of Friday, Dec. 18, about 17.5 million Americans contracted the virus and more than 318,000 have died.

On the same day, the FDA authorized a second company, Moderna, to produce and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer received approval one week prior.

Black health care workers in hospitals and clinics and even the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams received the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Health officials said a second dose should be taken in about three weeks. A second dose of the Moderna vaccine can take it four weeks later.

“That trust comes from a historical place, but we also have to explain to people that we put protections in place,” Adams said on CNN on Friday. “We now have many people looking to make sure these vaccines are safe.”

Some people still have no confidence in the vaccine.

“I don’t have a lot of trust in the government, especially with the last four years of the lies being told by you know who,” Charlotte Spencer, 62, of Landover, said about the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccination program. “I have a hard time with it, especially with that warp speed. I am in the slow lane. Anyone who wants to get in front of me can go right ahead.”

Outreach Efforts

To boost trust in taking the vaccine, Blacks such as former President Barack Obama said he would take the injection when it becomes available.

Maryland’s two top elected officials, Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, will receive the vaccine publicly.

State and health officials are working on an outreach campaign to work with local officials and community leaders that include minority and rural populations.

“They’re providing input now in terms of how we should roll out our campaign and what kind of messages and we are taking that input very seriously,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s acting deputy health secretary. “We’re not doing it alone, by any means. We’re really engaging with as many partners as we can across the state.”

Three organizations – National Governors Association, COVID Collaborative and Duke-Margolis Health Policy Center – released a report this month with suggestions on meeting the challenges of distributing the vaccine.

“Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on these populations, states should consider targeted strategies to ensure that vaccines will be equitably and effectively distributed to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color) communities at high risk,” the document states.

Both Pfizer and Moderna recorded more than 94 percent efficacy rates against COVID-19 among various races and genders.

Chan outlined some of the side effects from both vaccines that include pain at the injection site, muscle and joint pain and fever.

Once those with underlying conditions, first responders and elderly residents receive the vaccine, then Ric Gordon of Greenbelt will take it, too.

“Once they get it and is ready for me, then I will take it,” said Gordon, 38, who works for the U.S. Department of Transportation and is running for a city council seat. “I just want [officials] to do not just what’s in the best interest of themselves, but what’s in the best interest of public health. We have to think broadly as one community, as one people.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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