By Gregory E. Deavens, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross
Originally published in The Philadelphia Tribune on June 1.
I got my COVID-19 vaccination, and physically it didn’t hurt one bit. In fact, it felt great, especially psychologically. It was quick, easy and a big relief — especially knowing that vaccines are our most powerful tool to stop the spread of COVID-19 after more than a year of lockdowns and social distancing.
It has been a long and costly year, and very few of us remain untouched. Nearly 600,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Millions more have been sickened or have lost their jobs. The pandemic has highlighted issues of health disparities based on race and economic status. Black Americans have an almost three times higher risk of being hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.* Sadly, the death rate for Blacks is almost two times higher than whites.
Vaccination is how we stop the terrible toll COVID-19 is taking on the Black community and our whole country. It is our way back to some sense of normal. Thanks to the vaccines, the number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations is dropping. The economy is opening up, and life is slowly getting back to normal. But too many people are still getting sick and dying. More of us need to get vaccinated.
I know some people have concerns or questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. As the leader of a health care company, I am painfully aware of the systemic issues that have led to poorer health outcomes for Black people — our company is committed to fighting those disparities. As a Black man whose parents attended Tuskegee Institute, I know well the history that leads many African Americans to distrust the medical community.
I encourage anyone with questions to look at trusted and updated resources for information about the vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested across diverse racial and ethnic groups, and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has thoroughly evaluated the safety of the vaccines. The ingredients are safe, and the FDA has been very cautious and deliberate in monitoring the vaccines. The data shows the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh any risks. The same reasons people get vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, polio, the flu, and chickenpox apply to COVID-19.
Every American over the age of 12 is now eligible to get vaccinated. And while health disparities make it still challenging to get the vaccine in far too many communities, the situation is starting to improve as more neighborhood vaccine clinics are scheduled. At Independence Blue Cross, we are working with partners like the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium and Rite Aid to make it easier for people to get vaccinated in their neighborhoods.
Getting vaccinated is important for many reasons. It allows you to get together in small groups with family, friends and others who have been vaccinated, and it is the best way to reduce your chance of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Many people who have medical conditions that prevent them from getting one of the vaccines are relying on the rest of us to do so, so they can stay safe and healthy.
I encourage you to join me and the millions of others who have been vaccinated, including many of the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, community health professionals, faith and other leaders who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe and healthy throughout the pandemic. Do it for your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and strangers. We all have a duty to protect the ones we love from COVID-19. That starts with protecting yourself.