The vaccination question: Forum offers perspectives from African American, Latino communities

  • In this undated photo provided by Johnson & Johnson in September 2020, a woman receives an injection during phase 3 testing for the Janssen Pharmaceutical-Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States. Johnson & Johnson via AP

Staff Writer 
Published: 3/5/2021 6:00:46 PM

The message that landed in the chat box cut to the crux of an online forum Friday afternoon to discuss perspectives about the COVID vaccine within African American and Latino communities.

“Many of my circle of friends/family from the Latino and African American community will not be taking the vaccine,” one attendee wrote. “I understand their concerns ... But hope that with conversations and education, they would have more trust.”

That’s exactly what the four-member panel of experts sought to do over the hourlong event titled, “The COVID Vaccine: Personal & Professional Perspectives Within African American and Latino Communities.”

Panelist Dr. Sarah Perez McAdoo has heard some hesitation about the vaccine, noting that in communities of color, there has been challenges in medicine and science and experiences of “not really being included, or excluded, and even harmful situations.” She pointed to the Tuskegee study in which hundreds of Black men were not informed about the purpose of the study and for decades were not given treatment for syphilis.

In addition to sharing scientific facts about the vaccine with people, McAdoo points out some reasons to consider getting the vaccine that go beyond the science.

“I ask them, ‘what do you miss doing?’” said McAdoo, the Population Health Capstone Director at the University of Massachusetts Medical School-Baystate. “How do I personalize this — what’s important to you?”

McAdoo also emphasized the community impact getting the vaccine can have, noting that people of color have been hit hard by COVID-19.

“I don’t want to wait two years for the Black and brown community to get out of this,” she said. “To do that, it means we have to do the right thing for each other.”

Joining McAdoo on the panel was Dr. Miguel Rodriguez, a pulmonologist at Holyoke Medical Center. Rodriguez said his office gets multiple calls each day from people asking if they should get vaccinated.

“A lot of people should go back to their providers,” he told listeners. “There’s always somebody you can reach.”

Rodriguez said he tries to understand people’s fears and concerns.

“Seeing patients one by one, it’s been more of trying to encourage people to understand the necessity of getting this vaccination,” he said. “I’ve been working with one patient at a time.”

Other panelists at the forum — organized by the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts and The Children’s Study Home and live-streamed to YouTube — were Frank Robinson, vice president of Public Heath of Baystate Health and Ronn Johnson, president and CEO of Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Services.

In promoting the forum, The Children’s Study Home, which includes mostly direct care and front-line staff, aired concerned about the low participation by communities of color in receiving the vaccine. While respecting an individual’s right not to get a vaccine is important, the group also believes that it has an obligation to help its staff and the community make informed decisions.

“The statistical data is that people of color are largely affected by this in numbers significantly greater than their white counterparts,” Johnson said at the forum. “With that reality, you’re likely to have an interaction with this disease … err on the side of being cautious and go ahead and have the vaccine.”

Panelists also spoke of their own experiences with getting the vaccine. McAdoo said her first shot was easy, but with her second, she experienced some of common side effects, such as fatigue and soreness. Robinson said he “didn’t feel a thing and had no reactions.”

There’s not a lot of vaccine available, Rodriguez said, and he encouraged people to take whichever one is offered to them. “It doesn’t matter which one it is,” he said. “I’ve had patients that have decided not to get a certain vaccine waiting for another one and they are still waiting … All vaccines will work.”

McAdoo acknowledged it can be difficult to book a vaccine, noting that she is trying to get one for her mother. “Please be persistent and continue to get through this,” she said.

Robinson has been volunteering at a vaccination clinic. “I’m actually witnessing this celebration as people come through. There’s literally joy and happiness,” he said. “It’s really a remarkable experience if you have not been there to witness the celebration and that folks see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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