Black and Hispanic people disproportionately die from COVID-19 across the United States. The urgent question in the medical community has become how to change this dire situation and boost vaccination rates. As a Black pre-med student witnessing this pandemic play out in my own community and on national news, I can say with confidence that the issues facing communities of color are complex and cry out for efforts beyond addressing vaccine hesitancy.
Black and brown people are more likely than white people to be essential workers, to live in poverty, and to have underlying health conditions. Yet they have less access to PPE, COVID-19 testing, and vaccination sites.
The Kaiser Family Foundation studied 16 states, including Massachusetts, and found that Black people had particularly low vaccination rates despite accounting for large numbers of deaths and new cases in those states. This is not only because Black people are hesitant to receive the vaccine. It is also due to barriers that prevent them from accessing the vaccines that are available. The only way to register for a vaccine in Massachusetts is through an online platform, which operates on a first-come first-served basis and is prone to site crashes and other malfunctions. This poses particular challenges for the economically disadvantaged, who may not have stable Internet access or the flexibility to take time off work if they do manage to make an appointment.
Black people have every reason to mistrust the medical system because of its long history of unresponsiveness and outright racism. But the current inequities we are witnessing are also caused by institutional barriers to available resources and information.
That is why the organization We Got Us was created. We are a collective of Black medical and pre-medical students, health professionals, and community members in Boston who are working to inform and protect this city’s Black neighborhoods. Our objective is not to convince people to get vaccinated but to convey information from a source they can trust and empower them to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. We give them strategies for reducing the spread of COVID-19, bring them thoroughly vetted information on the safety of the vaccines, and help advocate for their interests in the medical sphere.
To that end, we ask local businesses to display our resources, and we invite community members to participate in virtual education and empowerment sessions. We also look for partners in medicine and public health to amplify our message of transparency and concern for Black health. All of our materials are stamped with our logo: four melanated hands interlocked. It is a call to join in community and a signal to the people we support that this information can be trusted. We are creating a pipeline of pandemic-related information that is by us, for us.
On Thursday, we will host a virtual launch event for our organization. This will be an opportunity for us to speak to the greater Boston community directly and to find out how we can best work to address participants’ concerns. In collaboration with the Boston Public Health Commission, we will also distribute kits at coronavirus testing sites in underserved communities. These kits will include masks, sanitizer, and information guides in multiple languages.
Black doctors, nurses, and scientists are doing their best to educate and protect their communities. But they must also contend with an overburdened health care system and their own underrepresentation in the field. That is why future medical professionals are striving to amplify their work and the contributions of other organizations in these communities. The urge to right the course of history and forge a better future for Black health is personal for me. We got us.
Kareem King is a pre-med student at Harvard.