Serving at Erie Family Health Centers (pictured below in my fashionable PPE!), a Federally Qualified Health Center, on the West side of Chicago during a global pandemic has shown me the long-standing impacts that systemic racism has within communities and their people. The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has been publishing their COVID-19 case, testing, and death rates with the option to filter the data based on age, gender, and race-ethnicity. The graph below highlights racial disparities prevalent within COVID-19’s death rates in Chicago (“COVID Dashboard” 2020).
This means the safe development and rollout of a vaccine has the potential to have a greater positive impact and save more lives within these racial-ethnic communities that are disproportionately impacted. Great, right?! Not quite. This greater positive impact works under the assumption that vaccine compliance would be consistent across racial-ethnic groups. Such an assumption fails to account for the distrust that the health care and research systems have created with marginalized communities. In order for the COVID-19 vaccine to be equitable and reach its full potential, health care and research organizations need to work to gain the trust of black and brown communities through intentional transparency and inclusion.
As a result, I have begun conducting outreach to diverse patients to recruit them for RUSH Medical Center’s Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine trial in an attempt to ensure adequate representation within the research. Diversity amongst clinical trial participants is crucial to the success and safety of a vaccine; it helps minimize the risk of there being a demographic-specific side effect.
In addition to the distrust stemming from historical malpractice, the rise of a COVID-19 anti-vaccination movement and increased access to misinformation has added additional obstacles to overcoming this pandemic. I believe it is the duty of a medical home to provide transparent and comprehensive information about the factors that impact their patients’ health care decisions. This has led me to develop a communications campaign on the topic of the potential COVID-19 vaccinations to help increase access and understanding of the complex scientific processes while combating the spread of false information. There is often a barrier of scientific and medical information to the public because of the jargon used, making the redistribution and reframing of relevant information crucial to providing health education to the community.
With widespread vaccination on our horizon, it is imperative for healthcare and public health professionals to think ahead and prepare to meet their community where they are at. We have seen immense racial disparities in the spread and impact of this virus in Chicago, which is why we need to proactively work together to ensure the impact of the vaccine does not have a similarly inequitable impact.
Figure 1. Daily death rates* for Race-Ethnicity. Adapted from “COVID Dashboard | COVID-19 Daily Summary,” by City of Chicago, Dec. 10, 2020, COVID Dashboard. Retrieved December, 10, 2020, from https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/sites/covid-19/home/covid-dashboard.html. Copyright 2021 by Microsoft Corporation.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2020-2021 member Christina Baum.
Christina is a Health Educator at Erie Family Health Center - Johnson and West Side.