By Sandra Jordan Of The St. Louis American
With the U.K. starting the Pfizer-BioNTech version of coronavirus vaccines, Canada approving their use this week, the U.S. is expected to grant Emergency Use Authorization to Pfizer this week on its COVID-19 vaccine, and Moderna next week.
The anticipation of a vaccine is as strong as the skepticism of those who question whether the vaccines were created too fast, and if any vaccines for the virus, also known as COVID-19, are safe for Black people.
“Making It Plain: A Conversation with Dr. Fauci and the Black Community,” aired live Tuesday on the BlackDoctor.org Facebook page, where he attempted to answer questions about speed and safety of the vaccine’s development and addressed skeptics’ concerns and hesitancy about getting the vaccine when it becomes available.
Cancer researcher Dr. Wayne Frederick, president of Howard University, and Ambrose Lane Jr. of D.C.’s Health Alliance Network and co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID, asked questions of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who leads the research effort in the U.S. and has been director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the National Institutes of Health since1984.
Fauci described how African Americans have been hard hit by coronavirus cases and deaths.
“The very painful disparity, not only in incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 disease among African Americans and people of color but also the disproportionate burden of serious disease as reflected in increased hospitalizations, to the tune of four times the number of hospitalizations per 100,000 population among African Americans, compared to the population in general,” Fauci said. “And there are at least twice as many deaths.”
The Tuskegee syphilis experiments that began in 1932 on unsuspecting Black men and the use of cancer cells belonging to Henrietta Lacks without permission are historically only part of the problem.
Despite progress by Blacks in society in education, business and science, Lane said the polls show an almost even split about who will and who won’t get the vaccine, fed in part by misinformation and lies about COVID-19 and vaccination.
While understanding the historic mistrust, Fauci addressed the two major issues of current skepticism toward the COVID-19 vaccine process — speed of development and safety and effectiveness.
“The speed has nothing to do with compromising safety or scientific integrity. It’s due to the extraordinary and exquisite advances in vaccine platform technology, which has allowed us to do things in weeks and months that formerly took years,” Fauci said.
The determination of whether a vaccine is truly safe and effective, Fauci said, is not made by drug makers indirectly and the government does not see the data until well into the development process.
“The data first come to a totally independent data and safety monitoring board that is made up of experienced clinicians, scientists, vaccinologists, statisticians, and ethicists. They look at the data and determine if it is safe and effective. If it is, they show it to the company, the company then analyzes it and presents it to the FDA and applies for an Emergency Use Authorization or outright approval,” Fauci said.
“The experienced career scientists, not the politicians … examine the data, then in association with their own advisory committee, the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee …those individuals then advise the FDA.”
He said once the committee says the vaccine is safe and effective, Fauci said he would be “perfectly comfortable” in taking it and recommending it to his family.
Black scientists involved
When asked about Black involvement in the research, Fauci said African American scientists had key roles in the vaccine development process.
“The very vaccine that’s one of the two that has an absolutely exquisite level — 94 to 95% efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100% efficacy against serious disease that is shown to be clearly safe— that vaccine was actually developed in my Institute’s Vaccine Research Center by a team of scientists, led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett … an African American scientist.”
A Washington, D.C., resident with underlying health conditions who previously had COVID-19 asked if she needed to get the vaccine.
Fauci said yes, because historically, the durability of immunity to coronaviruses appears to be much shorter.
“If a person gets infected, and wants to get the vaccine, it’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t have any negative impact on other underlying conditions,” Fauci said.
He said mild side effects, soreness at injection site, aches, malaise, and in a small percentage of cases, fever, usually disappears within 24 to 36 hours.
However, once individuals get their two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, it is not the time to throw away the masks, go anywhere you want and start hugging people immediately.
“Until we get the level of infection in the community to such a low level that it is no longer a threat to anyone — almost eliminating the threat of infection, that even if you are vaccinated, it is recommended that you follow the public health recommendations of wearing a mask, staying distant, avoiding congregant settings and crowds and washing your hands often.”
That is for a couple of reasons Fauci said. “One, you may not be fully protected yourself, and two, the vaccine could prevent you from getting clinical disease, but not necessarily protect you against getting infected. So, you could get infected and have absolutely no symptoms and you might have a virus in your nasal pharynx even though you don’t have any symptoms.
So, you want to make sure you do something, like wear a mask, like keep your distance, so you don’t inadvertently infect someone else.”
The hour-long virtual question and answer session was organized by Howard University, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, National Medical Association, Howard University, BlackDoctor.org, National Institutes of Health, National Black Nurses Association, Meharry Medical College, Morehouse School of Medicine, National Urban League, Cobb Institute, G.W. Rodham Institute and the Health Alliance Network.
The video can be seen in its entirety on the BlackDoctor.org Facebook page.