COVID-19: Doctors Talk Vaccine and Variants
By Dianne Anderson
Local Black medical experts came together last week desperate to get the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of the community, now more than ever as the fast-moving Delta variant gains ground.
The doctors talked about how the vaccine protects against COVID-19 deaths, even against the dangerous more contagious mutation.
But so much of the community waits on the fringe.
One of the highlights of the discussion was that almost all doctors in America are now vaccinated, while 75% of the Black community in San Bernardino County is still unvaccinated, among the lowest numbers in the state.
Roz Nolan, Chief Nursing Executive Officer at Community Hospital of San Bernardino, described vaccine hesitancy on a personal level. When COVID first hit, it was obvious that patients were dying, but she was still not convinced.
“We always take the perception that it happens to other people, but not us. Not so,” Nolan said in the webinar.
She came down with a sore throat and cough, and because she was in good health, she believed she was strong enough to ride it out. Each breath was a struggle and she didn’t return to work for seven weeks. She was shocked at the devastation.
“I saw death and dying at a rate that I’ve never seen in my 40 years in nursing,” she said.
So far, the CDC reports Blacks nationwide are among the least vaccinated. So far, of all those that have received at least one dose, 60% were white, compared to 14.9% Latino and only 8.8% of Black.
Those who are unvaccinated now represent almost all of those who are dying of COVID.
Dr. Michael Andrew Owens, senior pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, addressed the urgency to combat hesitancy as a common denominator to stop the pandemic. Building community trust is critical, he said, but also to follow the science that shows people are better off vaccinated than not.
“We have to do it as if the negativity and the hesitancy is as potent and as lethal a force as the disease itself. We can do it, we will do it. Our lives depend upon it,” he said.
Congressman Pete Aguilar stressed the local low numbers of vaccinated communities compared to Los Angeles County. He got the vaccine last December when it became available.
“We have to move the needle,” Aguilar said. “To members of the community, please please please get vaccinated, get your loved ones vaccinated. Work with us, and tell us how to get other people vaccinated.”
For child-bearing age women, Dr. Betty Daniels said that getting pregnant women vaccinated is a challenge. She recalled H1N1, and its impact on Black women. She agrees with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that said the vaccine is safe for pregnant women.
“I have encouraged my pregnant and breastfeeding women to take the vaccine. There are even some studies that show the vaccine may give some protection to the breastfeeding infant,” said Daniels, MD, Obstetrician and Gynecologist.
The doctors talked about how the vaccine offers protection against severe death and disease from the Delta mutation. A recent final report involving a large survey by the American Medical Association shows that nearly all doctors today across the nation have taken the jab.
Non-Hispanic physicians were at 97% vaccinated, compared to Hispanics at 84%.
Emergency Medicine Specialist Johnny Negusse points out that doctors are in the best position to review and understand the data, and yet they have chosen to get the vaccine.
He believes the data speaks for itself.
“The takeaway from this is that physicians in an overwhelming way, knowing what the efficacy and the safety profiles of the vaccine are, have decided to get vaccinated. This is a big deal,” said Negusse, MD, Chief of Staff of Emergency Medicine at Community Hospital of San Bernardino.
Negusse also got vaccinated in December. He had no effects on the first shot, a few body aches for a day after the second shot. He also has a background in pharmacology, and has scrutinized every piece of information regarding vaccine safety.
“This is one of the safest medication vaccines that we’ve ever had,” he said, stressing anyone would be hard-pressed to find any other medication or vaccine on the market with its safety data profile. Some 75,000 people were in the phase 3 trial for the first time, ever.
He continues to work in E.R., and now has a lot of confidence in taking care of his patients. Unfortunately, at the current rate of exposure, he expects many more patients to come.
During the COVID pandemic, Negusse talked about watching helplessly as so many died,
“It was horrible, horrible,” he said. “I spent a year going to work seeing people die. About 70% were the age of 65, but 30% were under 65. [Ages] 30, 35, 40, 42, over and over they were dying right and left.”
A fellow emergency room doctor caught COVID last December. He was admitted, and soon gone. Through it all, Negusse had to explain to many families that their loved ones were gone.
“And by the way, the ones that are dying right now [those] in the hospital right now – 98% are unvaccinated, [it’s] completely preventable. If you haven’t had the vaccine yet, there’s no excuse,” he said.
Dr. Victor Waters moderated the webinar, and talked about the risk of local re-occurrence.
In an interview with the Precinct Reporter, Dr. Waters said the vaccine has been a hard sell in the community, but adds there are actionable ways toward a solution.
“The template for success is not these mass vaccination centers, it’s people of color leadership getting in the front lines and having those honest talks with everybody speaking their language, so to speak,” said Dr. Waters, Chief Medical Officer at Dignity Health, St. Bernardine Medical Center.
Other best practices include deploying mobile units to make the vaccine more accessible. Transportation, getting people to the local pharmacies or urgent care centers, is a big issue.
“It’s got to be around the corner, door to door,” he said. “Using our churches and any venues that are far more local than just [saying] go to the center, go to the department of health. Use our hospitals, our nurses that are committed to the vaccination process.”
He said a significant amount of the Black population only got one shot. He sees a constant flow of COVID infected still coming into the hospital.
Expectations are that the undervaccinated Black and Brown community will take a greater hit from the Delta strain in the weeks to come.
“Already half of the COVID detected viruses are from the D Variant in the state of California. It means the community of color that’s low vaccinated, San Bernardino in particular, is at risk for having a resurgence. That’s a major issue,” he said.
For more information on vaccine and pregnancy, see American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
For more information on where to get the vaccine, see