Dr. Eugenia South I’m a Black doctor who didn’t trust the Covid vaccine. Here’s what changed my mind.
Let’s normalize hesitancy to take a new vaccine. Instead of judgment, we need to empower trusted messengers to answer community questions and dispel myths.
By Dr. Eugenia South, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
Ten years ago, my father-in-law fell 13 feet from the top of his tractor-trailer. Only after completing his delivery, driving 35 miles home and showering, did he finally go to the emergency department. Although he had five broken ribs and a lung contusion, he was discharged. He returned to the doctor with difficulty breathing, but it would take several visits (during which symptoms were dismissed and test results misinterpreted) to diagnose fluid around his lungs and heart. He required surgery and suffered a post-operative cardiac arrest. His survival is a miracle.
I reflected on this complex relationship between racism and mistrust as I considered whether to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
Throughout, our family remained vigilant about my father-in-law’s medical care. We carefully observed his interactions with providers to ensure his pain was adequately treated, symptoms taken seriously and discharge instructions explained well. We are Black and know these standards are not always guaranteed for us. I am a doctor and have seen Black patients treated with disrespect; their concerns and symptoms dismissed.
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I reflected on this complex relationship between racism and mistrust as I considered whether to take the Covid-19 vaccine. As an emergency medicine physician with regular exposure to Covid-19 patients, I knew I would be prioritized for vaccination. However, for many months, I was decidedly and definitely against being among the first to get the shot. Instead, I planned to wait and see how others did with the vaccine. I suppose I am wary of the very system to which I have dedicated nearly two decades of my career.
To be clear, I am not a vaccine skeptic — my three children are fully vaccinated and I dutifully take my flu shot year after year. But I had serious doubts about the speed of the Covid-19 vaccine development process, which seemed to me to be a political tool then-President Donald Trump was trying to use to win re-election. How could a vaccine developed under a president who displayed repeated acts of racism and who actively enabled white supremacist groups be trusted? Across the country, many Americans are wrestling with similar concerns.
And yet, on Dec. 17, 2020, I received my first dose of the vaccine.