In SHIRE’s 23-year history we have never seen health crises like the ones facing the black community today. We all know about the 525,000 deaths across the nation caused by COVID-19. We know that African Americans die at rates two or three times that of whites. These data are explained in several ways. African Americans are on the front lines as essential workers. They cannot socially distance in small apartments. And we are far more likely to have health conditions that make us vulnerable to the disease, made worst by systemic racism.

These trends hold for the District of Columbia. As of the first week in March, in Ward 8 there were 193 deaths, while in Ward 3 there were 53. In Ward 7, 162 people died from the virus, compared to 51 in Ward 2. These statistics are alarming enough, but of equally great concern are the vaccination rates in the District. For example, as of March 4, only 1.7 percent of Ward 8 residents had been vaccinated while 6.9 percent of Ward 3 residents had received the vaccine.

There are several possible explanations for these huge differences. Ward 3 residents are much more likely to have easy access to computers so they can track where vaccines are available. That is why whites are often seen in black neighborhoods waiting for unclaimed vaccine doses. We also know that African Americans have less flexibility to get to vaccination sites quickly, especially “drive-through” locations. Most important, the supply of vaccines is limited in wards where the need is greatest. Finally, there is strong evidence that many black DC residents are reluctant, resistant, or opposed to taking the vaccine.

To understand this reluctance, SHIRE has reached out to community members in four wards. We have discovered that there are pressing questions people are asking about the COVID-19 vaccine. Our conversations with DC residents give testimony that when people do not get answers to their questions from trusted sources, they will accept whatever information is being spread.

Here are some questions SHIRE has heard from residents of Wards 7 and 8, and answers SHIRE has given:

Question: Are there any black scientists who were involved in developing any of the vaccines?

Answer: Yes. Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, an African American woman who is only 35 years old was a lead scientist involved in creating one of the current vaccines. She has been praised for her work at the National Institutes of Health and is highly respected by African American health professionals. All historically black medical schools have been involved in promoting the vaccine, as well as the Black Coalition against COVID-19, the National Medical Association, the Black Nurses Association, and many church leaders in the District.

Question: Will the COVID-19 vaccine harm or kill you?

Answer: We know that the current death toll from the virus is 525,000 lives in the United States. So far 76 million doses of the vaccine have been given, including to SHIRE team members and many we know. We have searched for evidence of deaths directly related to the COVID-19 vaccine. To date, it is believed that no individuals have died from the vaccine. However, most of us know someone who has died from illnesses caused by COVID-19.

Question: Does the COVID-19 vaccine contain something that can harm you, like lead, mercury, iron, ammonia, or rat poison?

Answer: No. The purpose of the vaccine is to keep you from getting sick and making others sick. Those chemicals are more likely to make you sick. If you have children, they were required to be vaccinated before entering school. Anyone who has ever attended public school has had to be vaccinated against illnesses such as polio, flu, pneumonia, diphtheria, whooping cough, smallpox, tetanus.

Question: Will the vaccine give you COVID-19?

Answer: No. The vaccine does not contain a live virus. So, you cannot get COVID from the vaccine. Just like your child did not get polio from their polio vaccination, you will not get COVID-19 from a COVID-19 vaccination.

What the vaccination will do is start your body to make antibodies to fight COVID in case you are exposed to the virus. When and if you do become exposed to COVID-19, your body has a head start on fighting it. Some people may have reaction to the vaccine. They may have muscle aches, chills, and fever. Usually, it does not last long, and your primary care provider can tell you how to handle that.

In conclusion, the coronavirus can lead to death. If you survive, there can be long-term effects on the body. But this does not have to be our future. We have the power to choose a COVID-19 virus-free life for ourselves, our families, and our community.


Established in 1997, the Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc. (SHIRE) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the promotion of health and wellness for all people. SHIRE works to eradicate health disparities and aid vulnerable populations in attaining optimal health. Communities, government agencies, corporations, and foundations look to SHIRE as an effective and trusted resource to identify inequities, propose solutions, and galvanize grassroots groups to address access to health care and quality of care issues among the underserved, particularly communities of color.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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