COLUMBIA — As COVID-19 vaccines begin to roll out to some in the general public, state and local leaders are working to assuage concerns about the shots’ availability and potential side effects, particularly in Black communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
In a virtual forum led by the Columbia chapter of the NAACP this week, state epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell asked vaccine skeptics to consider the side effects of contracting coronavirus against any perceived risk in taking the vaccine.
“We have had people who had COVID who didn’t require hospitalization who have prolonged recovery periods who don’t get back to their baseline quickly,” Bell said.
African Americans are more likely to work jobs that expose them to the virus and are more likely to rely on public transportation that places them in regular contact with other people, Bell noted. People of color are more likely to have underlying health conditions that make contracting the virus more dangerous, might be more likely to live with multiple generations of family under one roof and face systemic barriers in accessing healthcare, health experts say.
Bell said a primary concern she’s heard is about the speed the vaccine was developed and whether it was rushed without properly vetting the potential side effects.
To that, Bell responded that researchers already had a head start in developing vaccines after two previous SARS outbreaks, the first in 2002.
“It’s a myth that all the work that was done on this vaccine was just in the last few months, that’s not the case,” Bell said in the panel discussion Tuesday.
State health officials made those 70 and older eligible to receive the vaccine starting Wednesday. A map on the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control websites shows locations where the vaccine is available and those eligible can schedule appointments.
Leaders of Primsa Health, the state’s largest healthcare system, stressed patience during a news conference Wednesday as demand for the vaccine will initially outpace the available doses.
“As we receive additional volume of vaccine from manufacturers, we’ll immediately put that to use,” Primsa CEO Mark O’Halla said. “But as of today, we don’t control the supply. So until the manufacturers….ramp up more production to get us more vaccine, that’s gong to be the thing that constrains how fast we can go.”
Many in Black communities don’t see a doctor regularly or get an annual flu shot, Columbia City Council member Tameika Isaac Devine said. Convincing them to get inoculated when the vaccine is more widely available will require taking the shots to the people at community centers and college campuses, she said.
State Rep. Wendy Brawley, a Democrat who represents Lower Richland, said during the forum she has talked with leaders in the AME church about how to build trust for the vaccine and the potential for drive-up vaccination sites as with COVID-19 testing.
“I know it maybe a little more detailed, but we should be able to do that,” Brawley said. “Because if not, we’re going to miss a lot of the rural communities.”
The NAACP’s health committee chairman, Harvey Beach, told the panel Tuesday he had survived COVID-19 during the summer but was “very ill.” He said he received his first vaccine shot last week and his next was scheduled the first week of February.
The first shot came with mild chills and body aches, Beach shared.
“From what I’m seeing from my standpoint, the vaccine seems to be doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” he said.
Reach Stephen Fastenau at 803-365-3235. Follow him on Twitter @StephenFastenau.