Denver, CO

Denver mayor urges COVID-19 vaccine among minorities, dispels myths and fears

David Heitz

(Markus Winkler/Unsplash)

COVID-19 discriminates.

Blacks, Hispanics and Asians are more likely than whites to obtain COVID-19 and to be hospitalized and die from it.

That’s according to data from Kaiser Family Foundation and Epic Health Research network. As of July 20, rates for COVID-19 hospitalization and death among minority groups included:

Blacks: Of 7 million patients, 24.6 per 10,000 were hospitalized with 5.7 deaths per 10,000

Asians: Of 1.4 million Asian patients, 15.9 per 10,000 were hospitalized with 4.3 deaths per 10,000

Hispanics: Of 5.1 million Hispanic patients, 30.4 per 10,000 were hospitalized with 5.6 deaths per 10,000

Whites, meanwhile, tallied 34.1 million patients, with only 7.4 per 10,000 hospitalized and 2.3 per 10,000 deaths. More than triple the number of black people were hospitalized with COVID-19. The death rate was more than double for blacks.

Minority groups distrust healthcare system

What puts blacks, Hispanic and Asians at even greater risk is a distrust of the American healthcare system. Many may not want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For that reason, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock held virtual town hall meetings with all three ethnic groups.

The United States has a bad record for using minorities in dangerous experiments. Blacks deliberately were given syphilis during the Tuskegee Experiment. American troops of color were used as Guinea pigs for dangerous agents such as mustard gas during World War II, said Frank Budisidharta of the Asian Pacific Development Center.

“Not surprisingly the U.S. government does have a long history of damaging communities of color, including the Asian community,” said Budisidharta.

Some people have expressed concern about the vaccine being rushed to market. “Operation Warp Speed was a misnomer,” Dr. Anuj Metha said of the name for the vaccine rollout. “We had been working on RNA vaccines a long time.”

Openness, transparency of clinical trials good

Mehta, an emergency room physician for Denver Health, noted that the vaccine’s high profile put it under constant scrutiny. As a result, there was a great deal of media attention focused on the clinical trials.

“That openness and transparency really has got us over the milestone in developing the vaccine, not that we took short cuts,” Mehta said. “Everyone was working together on this.”

Metha, who took part in Hancock’s conversation with the Asian community, said members of minority groups should post pictures of themselves on social media getting the vaccine.

Dr. Terry Richardson of the Colorado Black Health Cooperative did just that. She took part in the mayor’s COVID-19 discussion with the black community of Denver.

“The week after Christmas I went in and got my first shot,” she said. “I really did it for the community because I have researched this vaccine and I wanted people to know I think it is safe and effective.

“I had them take my picture when I went to get it and I put it on the Colorado Black Health Cooperative Facebook group,” Richardson said. “Somebody from Montebello said hey, can we use your picture in the newspaper since a trusted person has had the shot already?”

Metha said the Asian community can help dispel stereotypes about COVID-19 by showing they are part of the solution.

Black KDVR news reporter a COVID-19 survivor

Hancock asked Gabrielle Franklin, a reporter for KDVR, what she feels her responsibilities are as a black journalist who is a COVID-19 survivor. She said she feels a responsibility to let people know the vaccine is safe and effective through her reporting.

“Once we get the vaccine more available to the community, that’s when we’ll see more of the rollout and talking to people who already have gotten the vaccine, talking to them about how it’s been going and to get that message out to the community,” Franklin said.

She said people not wanting the vaccine is more pervasive than you might think.

“What I’m noticing now is it’s so widespread that people in the community don’t want it. It used to be that you saw people from a certain background, and now you see doctors, nurses.”

Franklin said it’s important to show the community pictures of people being safely vaccinated. “I think it’s important we continue having imagery.”

COVID-19 makes racial disparities stand out

An opinion piece published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says disparity in disease in America is nothing new. Minority groups always have been at greater risk of harm.

“COVID-19 has served to emphasize the deadliness of these disparities and has made social conditions far worse for many Black, Hispanic, and American Indian persons living in the U.S.,” according to the viewpoint. “But these inequities are not immutable. Future versions of federal COVID-19 legislation should address these gaps in access to care and public health education.”

Change will require more than an expansion of services. “The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity for clinicians, health systems, scientists, and policy makers to address social disparities, and thereby improve the health and well-being of all persons in the U.S. for both known and future illnesses.

“Societal efforts to improve conditions for minority communities should build on the intrinsic strengths of each unique community.”

That’s what Mayor Hancock has tried to accomplish in his COVID-19 talks with minority communities. You can watch the black town hall meeting here, the Hispanic meeting here and the Asian talk here.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO

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