The arrival of vaccines in December 2020 changed the course of COVID-19 in Washington State. Currently, about 72% of people 12 and older in Washington State are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, bringing us one step closer to putting the pandemic behind us.
However, for the Black community, this story hits differently. Currently, 64% of non-Hispanic Blacks have initiated vaccination, and 57% of non-Hispanic Blacks are fully vaccinated.
Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has infected and affected Black people at a higher rate than other populations, mistrust and misinformation continue to stop many of us from getting the COVID-19 Vaccine. There are concerns that the COVID-19 vaccine was created too fast, but that is not the case.
For more than 200 years, vaccines have helped keep us safe. Vaccines have saved millions of lives against vaccine-preventable diseases, reducing the burden of diseases like tetanus and measles by 92%-100%. So let us look at a couple of these vaccines and their impact on history.
Onesimus and Smallpox Variolation
Before vaccines, various cultures in Asia and Africa practiced variolation. Variolation involved transferring infected matter from a smallpox sore to an uninfected person. In the United States of America, an enslaved person named Onesimus (the name given upon being sold; his real name has been lost), who was brought to the U.S. in the early 18th century, told his enslaver (Cotton Mather) about the practice of variolation. Mather checked this story with other enslaved people, then allowed Onesimus to show several American doctors how to do the procedure. It was then commonly done in the Americas, which is one reason we won the Revolutionary War: The Americans lost far fewer soldiers to smallpox because variolation was required, while smallpox devastated the British troops because variolation was not yet common or well known in Europe. Later, vaccination replaced variolation after being invented in the late 18th century.
The 1918 Flu Pandemic
During World War I, the 1918 flu pandemic reached Seattle. Public officials in Seattle and King County closed public gathering locations such as churches and schools. Officials only permitted gatherings in the open air while requiring everyone to wear masks on public transit like Seattle Streetcar. As the virus spread, it ultimately killed 6,571 people in Washington. Unlike modern flu outbreaks, there was no vaccine to protect people from severe flu illness.
Thanks to the support from the U.S. Army, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. and Dr. Jonas Salk developed the first inactivated flu vaccine in 1942. Research in the 1940s also led to the present-day practice of regularly adjusting flu vaccines to fight flu virus mutations.
In 2009, the H1N1 Influenza virus became the first major pandemic in the 21st century. There were 1,667 severe flu cases reported in Washington, but only 98 of these cases resulted in death because of widespread vaccination.
Measles Outbreaks 2019
Before a measles vaccine was available in 1963, four million people were infected with measles every year, leading to over 500 deaths annually. In recent measles outbreaks in Washington, most cases were reported among people who were not vaccinated against the disease.
Measles is a very contagious illness with mild to life-threatening symptoms. In 2019, there were two measles outbreaks in Washington, totaling 87 cases. The only way to prevent it is by getting the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Thanks to this vaccine, we rarely see a case of rubella in Washington now.
Learnings from History
As we reflect on some of the histories of vaccines, we can see that they have enabled us to live a life free of many diseases. We must also remember that Black people have been instrumental in the development of vaccines and have been on the receiving end of these vaccines as well. In the present day, we see Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an immunologist at NIH who helped develop one of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines and is now educating our community about it.
Many of us can remember getting our school shots. You would psych yourself up, telling yourself you’ve got this! It’s “only” a shot, and you can handle it. It helped that mom was there to hold your hand. At the end of the scary ordeal, there would be a brand-new Band-Aid, and to sweeten the deal, a lollipop in your favorite color. Did it even matter that the lollipop tasted nothing like the color you chose? Nope! It was your reward for your courage. But you didn’t have to make that hard decision; it was made for you.
Now, you must consider the COVID-19 vaccine for the love of your parents and children, siblings and friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
Moving on from Our Past
But still, hesitancy runs deep. So how do we solve this? How do we take a vaccine from the same community that wasn’t Here for Us?
The KEY to moving on from our past is getting involved in the present! We must tell Our Stories, Use Our Voice, then utilize Our Choice.
Research the journey of the COVID-19 vaccine to make an informed decision. We can use our DRIVE as a community to:
Discover – Find out how the COVID-19 vaccine was created and how it works.
Reach out – If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask a healthcare professional. There’s no shame in a question!
Investigate – If it doesn’t make sense, dig deeper! Don’t rely on social media for answers.
Value – The knowledge that you will gain from your research is invaluable.
Educate – Bring awareness to those around you. Pass on what you’ve learned to family, friends, neighbors, and your community.
Addressing misinformation in our community is essential to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s work together not to lose more precious lives to this virus.
This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. However, information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone five years of age and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 Vaccine is provided at no cost to you.
WA Notify can alert you if you’ve been near another user who tested positive for COVID-19. Add WA Notify to your phone today: WANotify.org
Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.