A virtual panel discussion dedicated to Berkshire County communities of color will address fears, misinformation and questions around the COVID-19 vaccine next week.
“Unmasking COVID-19: Vaccine Q&A” is a collaboration between groups including the county’s NAACP chapter, the Berkshire Immigrant Center and Berkshire Pride.
“The first thing to really acknowledge is that there is a hesitancy in communities of color, particularly the Black community, with regards to public health initiatives through the government," said panelist Dr. Adrian Elliot, the chief of emergency medicine at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. “We need to acknowledge that there’s been issues like the Tuskegee Experiment in which African Americans were given the syphilis bacteria and they were allowed to, over a period of over 40 years, be watched without treatment to see how it developed.”
He says his goal with the panel is to confront that well-founded suspicion of the government and assuage long held community mistrust with transparency.
“Since we’ve seen this testing, since this has been discovered, there have been many things that have been put in place to prevent this sort of public health initiative from taking advantage of people of color,” said the doctor.
Elliot says he’s looking forward to hearing concerns and addressing them directly.
“It’s in the interest of all of us to make sure that people are being heard and that they understand that this vaccine has been tested on many different races, ages, genders, and has been shown to be safe,” he said.
“I think the main point here is having people to trust the vaccine," said fellow panelist Rosa Tabango, a lead nurse at the Laurel Lake Nursing Home in Lee. “Maybe some of the untrusting thing is the lack of communication and information about it. At my jobsite, co-workers, people who I know around, it’s been a little bit of denial on it. And it’s all based on misinformation.”
She says social media has proliferated false narratives about the vaccine.
“Because they see just little things out there – they don’t go deep and find out the real information," she explained. "It’s just little things. They’ve got it from, ‘somebody said it,’ ‘somebody read it,’ ‘somebody posted’- so it’s not the real information there, and that is what makes people not trust in it.”
Tabango – an immigrant from Ecuador – says vaccine outreach needs to be as clear and direct as possible.
“We all are here in this country, we are adapting to a new culture, but there we still, somethings need to be addressed in our own language, kind of," she said. "So in that, it will be, I think, helpful to make them understand and trust a little bit better.”
She hopes that her personal experience of contracting and surviving COVID-19 will give weight to the reality of the situation for skeptics.
“Every single day I was sick, I took the chance to identify myself with my patients and say, ‘now I understand why this patient feels like that. Now I understand,’ Tabango told WAMC. "And I went back and I said, I need to help them in a different way, because now I do understand how they feel. And that was like, being me, an example for my co-workers – this is real. It’s not politicians, it’s nothing like that. This is a real thing. So if you want to protect yourself and protect the others, this is the only option we have now.”
Elliot says he’s looking forward to an honest and candid conversation that will remind the community what the vaccination effort is all about.
“We’re doing it to protect ourselves," he said. "We’re doing it to protect our friends, our family, and we’re doing this also to hopefully get back to a little bit more normal times.”
The “Unmasking COVID-19: Vaccine Q&A” panel, moderated by former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, is at 5:30 Tuesday.
For more information on how to access the event, click here.