Building Vaccine Trust and Mental Health Help
By Dianne Anderson
By now, most Americans may be noticing the COVID-19 vaccine works better than imagined against the highly contagious Delta variant, which is probably why some of the staunchest anti-vaxxers are rethinking the fourth wave of the surge.
Half of America, about 180 million are now fully vaccinated, but the question remains where the Black community stands.
“The reserved camp or the resistant camp – we’re seeing those two different camps or positions,” said Rev. Gregory Sanders, lead pastor of The ROCK Christian Fellowship and president of the Long Beach Ministers Alliance.
He said it is hard to navigate the process with so much historical trauma attached to the vaccine.
Another indicator as to who gets the jab is proximity. Things become more real closer to home, he said, maybe it gets a child sick, a neighbor, mom or dad or grandmother died. Others are more reserved, but not resistant, but they just need more convincing.
“The reserved are the late responders – my uncle got [the vaccine], my pastor got the vaccine. That proximity grows and they tend to be a little more receptive to receiving the vax.”
Nationally, medical providers are seeing Delta surging to match last November, but it’s hitting younger patients harder and faster. Hospitalizations are surging with ICUs overflowing or turning people away again in some states.
Nearly all related hospitalizations and deaths are among the unvaccinated. Of the breakthrough cases of the vaccinated, there are almost no symptoms from COVID-19 or Delta strain. Only 2% of those with vaccines are hospitalized, but 99.5% of deaths are of the unvaccinated. In his recent address, President Joe Biden said that 400 people are dying daily from the Delta variant in the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Pastor Sanders is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and is just one generation removed from the infamous 40-year syphilis Tuskegee experiments administered by the United States Public Health Service.
He understands the reluctance of the Black community in getting the vaccine. Along with other bio-ethical abuses passed down through generations and personal experiences, that trauma is the Black family legacy, he said
“It was a very real conversation for my parents, and my grandparents. I remember hearing about it, and when it started in the 1930s,” said Sanders.
As a pastor, he said the issue has been very compelling for clergy and they decided to lead the way for the reserved and resistant by getting vaccinated early on. He got his vaccine as soon as it became available.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls and concerns, asking us to be examples. Most of the pastors of the alliance got vaccinated on the same day,” he said.
At the start of the pandemic, transportation was a big barrier for Tier one, the elderly in getting to mass vaccination sites, which was inconvenient or impossible. Today, the new tier is among the GenX’rs and Millenials that have transportation, but are still reluctant.
To reach them, the city has used several approaches, including doorknockers, concert promotions, a lottery, and a chance to win prizes.
“We have a Long Beach vaccination collaboration which represents about every demographic,” he said. “Resources were allocated within the city, we partnered with Black and Healthy in the LBC, and other projects that have been inviting and encouraging.”
But building trust is the main part of the process, he said.
“We still have this sense of urgency,” he said.
On the other side of the pandemic are increased mental health concerns.
Through COVID, the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, Long Beach, has also seen a serious uptick in calls for help, nearly tripled during the first four months of the pandemic and lockdown.
Jolissa Hebard said their nonprofit serves the entire diverse community, and focuses on cultural competencies. She said the trauma of medical facilities toward African Americans or people with language issues, and other microaggressions have been historically glossed over.
“We have a huge number of Black and Latino population that are afraid to go the doctor, afraid of medications, even getting to see the doctor because of the lack of care and lack of parity,” said Hebard, NAMI director of mental health outreach.
Hebard had a very close family member who attempted suicide, and depression has been a common thread throughout the family for many years. A misdiagnosis of symptoms and wrong reading of a chart could have cost a life.
Their program peer leader, also African American was born with cerebral palsy, and bipolar. Hebard said it’s not surprising that her family struggled with her mental health diagnosis and tried to dissuade her from taking medications that could help.
Hebard said that NAMI volunteers have had similar first-hand experiences, and are passionate about mental health help.
“We have this perfect storm happening, the pandemic, the vaccine, Black Lives Matter. We have this polarized political climate. It’s just pushing to the forefront that we have got to talk about mental health and how to support each other,” she said.
To connect with Pastor Sanders, see www.facebook.com/werockthelbc/
For more information on mental health services through NAMI, see