Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Now, do you want the good news first or the bad news? Not sure. Okay, let's start with the bad. On Friday, an internal document from the CDC revealed that the COVID Delta variant causes more severe illness, and that vaccinated people may be able to spread it, even though they're unlikely to become ill themselves. That's definitely bad news for all the schools and businesses planning a return to in-person schedules this fall. The good news, well, apparently the bad news has moved many of those most reluctant to get vaccinated finally to roll up their sleeves.
In the past two weeks, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, and other hard-hit states have experienced double-digit increases in daily vaccinations. Joining me now with ideas about how to make all the news into good news is Dr. Rhea Boyd, pediatrician, and public health advocate. Welcome to the show, Rhea.
Dr. Rhea Boyd: Thanks so much for having me, Melissa.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Boyd, it seems like the developments in COVID are ever-changing, how do we make sure that the information that we are passing and not just as media folks, but on our own personal social media or within our families, how do we make sure that the accurate information is what passes from us to others?
Dr. Rhea Boyd: There are important sources of information online that people can turn to if you're still looking for a few fast facts about the COVID vaccines. In fact, me and partners at Black Coalition Against Covid and UnidosUS have created an online repository of videos that just answer questions from Black and Latinx healthcare providers for Black and Latinx communities about the COVID vaccines.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I know on exactly that point, you're co-developer of THE CONVERSATION, which is really a national public information campaign to get that kind of accurate information out to Black and Latinx communities. When I was just now talking about the states that are hard hit, some of those states, particularly, for example, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana have large populations of non-white citizens, is that where we're seeing the under vaccination?
Dr. Rhea Boyd: It is, unfortunately. To be honest, this is a predictable problem. These are all populations and states that have been chronically underserved by our nation's health care system. It's why we created this campaign because we know that the reach of our health care system doesn't quite seem to always trickle down into our communities, and so we wanted to make sure that we are proactively reaching out not just with the resource to actually get vaccinated, which is now pretty available across the United States but to make sure that access to credible information about the vaccines helps people make this important choice.
Melissa Harris-Perry: What works, what are the strategies or the messengers who really seem to pierce reluctance?
Dr. Rhea Boyd: One of the most important things is that we have messengers who look like and come from the communities that they're talking to. We have worked really hard to employ messengers from across the United States, but particularly who live and work in the southern United States, so that folks who are in these hardest-hit states can see providers that they recognize, respect, and care for.
The other thing that's important to acknowledge is that there are still major access barriers to the COVID vaccines. While the COVID vaccines are broadly available, like I said, across the United States, folks still have trouble actually accessing them if they work in a job that doesn't have paid sick leave, or if they need childcare to get that time away. It's also really important for us to employ strategies that give people the resources they need so that they can take the time they need to get vaccinated.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to go ahead and just dig right into this issue that keeps coming up with particularly African American Southern communities. Why is getting a COVID vaccine not the same thing as the Tuskegee experiment?
Dr. Rhea Boyd: Oh, wow. Yes, this is a big topic. I think there is a rightfully earned concern and skepticism in Black communities about large government programs, because as you mentioned, the Tuskegee experiment, those programs have been used to exploit our community explicitly in the past, and so people are sensitive to that and people are wary of participating in anything that might put them at risk.
When we talk to Black communities, the number one concern people have are about side effects. There seems to be a concern that there are some hidden side effects that the scientific community isn't sharing with them, and so we're really honest about all of the data we have, not just from the clinical trials that included tens of thousands of folks, but now from the more than 300 million Americans who have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine that tell us that these vaccines are safe.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I think, for me, I just also want to focus on that question of trust for a moment because as you were talking about the necessity of having messengers who are from the community and look like the community and are in relationship with the community that was, of course, one of the most insidious aspects of the Tuskegee experiment. Was that there was a Black woman nurse from the community who was used to help delay treatment even the question of her complicity has been sort of challenged across the years, historically, but again, as a physician, as a Black woman, as a pediatrician, help communities to understand why we ought to trust you and others in the community of medical providers.
Dr. Rhea Boyd: One thing I think that the community can look at is one of the populations that was the quickest to be vaccinated nearly completely, more than 96%, were doctors in this country. Why? Because we were the ones who actually saw the devastation of COVID. The same, in many ways, is true of our Black communities. We are the population who is most likely to know somebody who has died, been made sick, been hospitalized because of COVID, either in our families or in our community circles, and so because we know that devastation, it's critical that we also know and have access to the best tool for prevention that our country has.
Sometimes when I have this conversation with Black folks, the other thing I say is, "If you look around the world, at places where COVID has spiked, and there's been surges, and folks have died in mass numbers, the number one thing that these countries are asking for from our country is the vaccine. This is something that is coveted globally."
In Tuskegee, they were keeping treatment from us. Right now, we have treatment in our country that is not widely available throughout the globe and so it's critical that people understand the unique opportunity they have as Americans to actually protect themselves.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Boyd, you're a pediatrician. When the vaccine becomes available for the little people like my seven-year-old, would you suggest to parents that they access it for their children?
Dr. Rhea Boyd: If the safety data remains as strong as the safety data that we've seen for children 12 years and up to receive the COVID vaccine, absolutely, because we know that when kids go back into school, they are likely to be exposed in crowded settings to infectious diseases and cold, including COVID come this fall, and we want to make sure that they have the protection that keeps them from being hospitalized or dying of COVID.
The one thing I'll say for parents to know is that kids are affected by COVID, and particularly if you are a parent of a Black child or a Latinx child, it's critical that you know that our children actually disproportionately made up children who are affected by COVID hospitalization and deaths, so we need to vaccinate our kids, especially.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dr. Rhea Boyd, pediatrician, public health advocate, and co-developer of THE CONVERSATION. Thank you for joining us and thank you for your clarity about this issue.
Dr. Rhea Boyd: Thanks again for having me, Melissa.
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