By Erasma Beras-Monticciolo, MPA

To many, the choice between dying from COVID-19 and getting vaccinated seems like an easy choice. However, what we have seen in recent months is that the decision is more complex than many had previously considered. In the BIPOC communities, for example, attributing vaccine hesitancy to our community’s history with unethical research is missing the larger picture. What the media and others fail to recognize is that our community’s delay in accessing the vaccine has a lot to do with our experience with the existing health-care system. We don’t have to go far in our health history to identify the systems failure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. We saw similar disparities in the system’s response at the height of the pandemic and its recent struggles with equitable vaccine distribution. To discuss some of these truths and address the concerns expressed by BIPOC communities, we invited Dr. Julian L. Watkins, City Medical Specialist at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader to the Powering Up With Power of Two Facebook Live Series.

During the conversation Dr. Watkins acknowledged that by simply focusing on historical trauma we neglect to recognize the racist policies and the impact of those policies on our communities’ lived experiences. He goes on to explain that the distrust of the vaccine and the health care system is a logical response by BIPOC communities and that it’s important that our healthcare system make space to listen and to respond in a more holistic and inclusive way. Dr. Watkins also helped to debunk some myths about vaccine development, composition and effects and shared how he and others at DOHMH are working to create a more equitable vaccine program. To watch/listen to the interview please click here: Powering Up With Power of Two: COVID, The Vaccine & The BIPOC Experience