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Minority Health Conference debunks COVID-19 myths

Published on April 08, 2021

Minority Health Conference debunks COVID-19 myths

COVID illustration

Nations around the world are relieved with the development of a vaccine to treat the COVID-19 virus. Many myths surround the deadly virus, including falsehoods on why African Americans have suffered one of the highest death rates from the coronavirus.

To address misinformation about the virus, Keith Grant, senior system director of Infection Prevention at Hartford Healthcare, presented “Debunking the Myths about COVID-19” on April 5 to a virtual audience at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Keith Grant, senior system director of Infection Prevention at Hartford Healthcare
Keith Grant, senior system director of Infection Prevention at Hartford Healthcare

The presentation was part of Eastern’s first Minority Health Conference, co-sponsored by the Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing and the Office of Equity and Diversity. Grant's presentation was sponsored by Governor Ned Lamont’s office, Hartford, CT-based nonprofit Health Equity Solutions and the nationally-recognized Premier Consultant Services. Senior health sciences major Harley Webley organized the conference in collaboration with fellow students Amy White, Yoshua Ruperto Gonzaga and Anayeli Arroyo. Ayesha Clarke, deputy director at Health Equity Solutions, served as moderator for "Debunking the Myths."

Grant said COVID-19, first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, is a new coronavirus not previously seen in humans, but found in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats and bats.

As of last month, the virus has been contracted by 117 million people and has killed more than 2.6 million people. In the United States, more than 29 million have been infected by the virus, and more than 525,000 have died from it. In Connecticut, the virus has killed more than 7,500 people.

Though others are in trial stages, three vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — have received federal Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). Grant said the FDA says a vaccine must get to at least 50 percent effectiveness for herd immunity. “Pfizer achieved this with 95 percent and Moderna did with 94 percent. I am interested in the 5 or 6 percent, those who are dying or who become critically ill. We will probably never completely erase the virus, but if you are vaccinated, your chances of surviving are better.”

Individuals can have serious side effects or severe reactions from the vaccine, but the most common reaction is pain at the injection site, headaches, fatigue and tinnitus. Most symptoms are resolved in a couple days.

Slide from Grant's presentation.

Slide from Grant's presentation.

Slide from Grant's presentation.

Slide from Grant's presentation.

Statistics have already shown that the coronavirus has hit African Americans and other racial minorities disproportionately. Until recently, missing from the discussion is how African Americans and other ethnic groups are experiencing discrimination when it comes to access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recent APM Lab Research shows African Americans dying at least three times the rate of Whites. In addition, Kaiser Health research shows that White Americans are being vaccinated at rates up to three times higher than Black Americans and ethnic groups.

Event coordinator Harley Webley, a senior majoring in health sciences.
Senior health sciences major Harley Webley helped coordinate the event.

This is a national challenge. Despite being the most successful state in overall vaccinations, Texas data reveals that more than 50 percent of deaths in the state have been Hispanics, and another 10 percent have been Black people. Vaccination sites are mostly hospitals, clinics and pharmacies located closer to affluent communities than poor urban areas.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave Publix supermarkets exclusive rights to distribute the vaccine in Palm Beach County. Some rural and predominantly Black Palm Beach County communities are 40 miles away from the nearest Publix supermarket.

Grant said this inequity — the real “underlying condition” — is systemic. “It is a myth that these groups are just sicker. As the vaccine rollout expands, these groups are left behind. Their communities are the least likely to be vaccinated due to inequity in the distribution of information and vaccine availability. It is important for us to appreciate this in order for us to support change not just for COVID-19 vaccination, but for equity in general healthcare access. We need to be better than before.” 

He said there is a significant amount of inaccurate conversation around vaccinations. He said Connecticut Gov. Lamont is doing a good job of addressing vaccine distribution and ensuring that African Americans are not left out of the vaccine rollout process.

Event coordinator, Ayesha Clarke, deputy director at Health Equity Solution.
Ayesha Clarke, deputy director at Health Equity Solutions, moderated "Debunking Myths"

Grant said Connecticut is expanding its public health campaign about the vaccine to urban communities and to sites in the African American community, such as The First Cathedral Church, where Lamont was administered his first dosage.

“Our goal is to reduce symptomatic disease, reduce mortality and to reduce the continued spread of the virus. At this point, vaccine trials indicate that these primary endpoints can be achieved safely with the vaccines that are available. We encourage everyone to learn about the COVID-19 vaccine and ask questions.”

When asked which vaccine he thought was best, Grant said, “The best vaccine is the one that is available! All that are available all have great results in their trials. 100 percent of individuals who took the vaccines in the trials avoided COVID-19 related hospitalization. Of all the individuals that took the vaccine in the trials, no one died from COVID-19 complications.”

Grant was asked if the public will need to get vaccinated every year. “I believe the vaccine will last at least a year, but do not ease up on your effort to remain safe. Do not put your guard down. Keep up your proper hand hygiene. Wear your mask. Be very careful.”

Grant also said everyone is eligible to get vaccinated. “Register and show up. No one should be asking for any kind of immigration status. Call us if it happens. We will address it. Immigrants are our neighbors. It is our job to ensure the highest quality of medical treatment for everyone. We can all learn from each other by gaining from another perspective.”

He said given America’s sad medical history in the African American community, minority skepticism is valid, and the alarming higher mortality, due to the underlying conditions of lack of access, must be addressed. “The nation really failed badly with COVID-19. We must ensure it must never happen again.”

Written by Dwight Bachman