Medical experts host panel
Professionals offer answers about vaccine
Sarasota Herald-Tribune USA TODAY NETWORK
As questions linger about how to get the coronavirus vaccine and whether it is safe, a panel of local and national medical experts gave some long-awaited answers Sunday.
At a virtual panel hosted by The W. Montague Cobb Institute, medical experts provided information and answered questions with a focus on communities of color in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Dr. Randall Morgan, CEO of The Cobb Institute, said that the institute is hosting similar panels for communities across the country to raise awareness about equity issues related to the distribution of and access to the coro-
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“The coronavirus pandemic has uncovered conditions that have been present in this nation for 400 years,” Morgan told the Herald-Tribune.
Black, Latinx and indigenous communities have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, in part because of these underlying conditions, called social determinants of health, Morgan said. Where someone lives, what job they have and what education level someone has are all factors that determine how healthy an individual will be.
These social determinants of health contribute to the increased risk of infection from the coronavirus in marginalized communities, Morgan said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data on COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity, Black or African Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19 at more than three times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people. The death rate is more than two times as much. And for Hispanics or Latinos, the hospitalization rate is more than four times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people while the death rate is also more than two times as much.
“Unfortunately, because of the virus and its characteristics, it has affected people who have marginal housing, marginal circumstances, working at jobs that require them to be facing the public, interacting with the public or unhealthy situations far more frequently than others,” Morgan said.
Black and Latinx communities also see medical conditions “disproportionately represented” in them, such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and asthma, Morgan said, which can make the impact of coronavirus that much more profound. And with many people uninsured, Morgan said people in communities of color may have no primary care doctor and seek their health care from emergency rooms.
“There’s just a total lack of equity in terms of access to care,” Morgan said.
The problem facing the community now, Morgan said, is there are too few vaccines available, and there needs to be equitable distribution of the vaccine in all communities.
“In order to escape or exit the pandemic, for all of us, we need to have about 80% of our entire population who has been vaccinated,” Morgan said. “So, it’s to everyone’s benefit that everybody be vaccinated.”
Panelists dispelled COVID-19 misinformation
At the virtual event, panelists including Dr. Manel Gordillo, infectious disease specialist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital; Dr. Janet Taylor, community psychiatrist at Centerstone; Dr. Lisa Merritt, founder of the Multicultural Health Institute; and Dr. Washington Hill, founding director of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at SMH, fielded questions about the vaccine and COVID- 19 from the audience.
Luz Corcuera, executive director of UnidosNow, provided Spanish translation throughout the panel and posed questions to the panelists that the Hispanic community in Sarasota has had.
Taylor said 70% of those who work essential jobs are disproportionately Black and Brown people.
“We know that even though Black and Brown people will make up 13% of the population in America, depending on where you are, 30% to 50% of them were likely to be the ones more likely to die,” Taylor said.
This is one reason why it is critical to encourage Black and Brown communities to receive the vaccine, Taylor said.
Another factor needing to be addressed is the mistrust and skepticism that communities of color have about the vaccine and health care systems in general, panelists said.
The pandemic, Taylor said, has given way to a “racial reckoning.”
“We know that there’s a long history of racism and bias in medicine,” Taylor said. “But now is a time to combat, certainly, the centuries of mistrust. We can do that with factual information and figure out how things do work and also look at the risk and reward.”
The panelists’ answers attempted to dispel some of the misinformation surrounding the vaccine and the virus, like whether the vaccine may complicate a woman’s ability to get pregnant and that mask-wearing is not necessary if people are socially distanced.
“The bottom line is, all of these measures that we do: social distancing, keeping down the crowd, wearing the mask, reduces risk,” Hill said.
Some had concerns about the possible long-term effects of the vaccine, worrying that they might have issues years down the road.
Merritt responded by reassuring the listeners that the millions of vaccine doses that have gone out have seen fewer reactions to the coronavirus vaccines than from flu vaccines. Aside from soreness, headaches, chills and fatigue, side effects from the vaccine have been minimal so far, Merritt said.
Others had questions about allergies to vaccines and medicine, what the vaccine is made of and mental health during the pandemic.
Here are some of the questions panelists answered: How long does the vaccine last?
Gordillo said it is still unknown how long the vaccine will last, and questions remain about whether and when people will need to receive additional COVID-19 vaccines in the future. Many vaccines require “boosts” in the future, Gordillo said. Immunities against the common cold, which is another type of coronavirus, last two years, so some experts think the vaccine may last about two years.
Were the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines rushed?
Gordillo said the coronavirus vaccines should not be compared to other vaccines that take years to come to fruition. Adequate funding played a major role in the relatively little amount of time that it took for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to be rolled out.
Is the vaccine free?
Hill said there are many “mixed messages” about whether there is a cost to receive the vaccine. Though the vaccine is free, when they are available at doctor’s offices, there may be administrative costs for the nurse or doctor giving the injection, but the vaccine itself is free.
“If you look far enough, you can get it for free,” Hill said.
Are the first and second doses of the vaccine the same?
The doses are identical, Gordillo said.
Merritt said the side effects may be stronger after receiving the second injection, and Hill said the side effects may be stronger in people under the age of 65.
Amid the pandemic, Morgan said information is constantly and rapidly changing.
For further information, Morgan encouraged people to visit thecobbinstitute.org/ or local organizations’ sites, such as UnidosNow.
“In order to escape or exit the pandemic, for all of us, we need to have about 80% of our entire population who has been vaccinated.”
Dr. Randall Morgan
CEO of The Cobb Institute
Henry Marsh, 72, has his temperature taken before entering the Sarasota Memorial Internal Medicine building in Newtown on Jan. 13. Vaccinations for the COVID-19 vaccine were by appointment only. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data on COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity, Black or African Americans are hospitalized with COVID-19 at more than three times the rate of white, non-Hispanic people. THOMAS BENDER/HERALD-TRIBUNE