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Fauci, Walsh urge Bostonians to get vaccinated

Jordan Frias
Fauci, Walsh urge Bostonians to get vaccinated
Mayor Martin Walsh during a Zoom call with religious leaders.

More than 2,000 people registered to listen to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, engage with religious leaders in Roxbury via Zoom on a potential coronavirus vaccine and the need to get vaccinated.

Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, went through the procedure that is needed to approve a potential vaccine while acknowledging the reluctance that people may have when it comes to getting vaccinated.

He also answered audience questions as Rev. Gloria White-Hammond of the Bethel AME Church and Rev. Liz Walker of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, a member of the governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group, moderated.

“First of all, it is important to understand that the process of the development of a vaccine and the decision as to whether or not it’s safe and effective is a process that is independent of the federal government,” Fauci said.

“Number two, the speed with which it’s been done does not compromise safety nor does it compromise scientific integrity,” Fauci added.

A lot of unanswered questions, including the side effects of a vaccine and who will get it first could not be addressed in the discussion, but Fauci made a point to appeal to members of the African American and Latinx communities to get vaccinated.

Recent surveys have found that close to 50 percent of Black people would not get a vaccine even if it were given to them free of charge. Prior to Fauci speaking, the audience was asked a similar question, and those who answered provided a similar result.

“Those who have suffered the most from this terrible outbreak are the ones that stand to benefit the most, so they are the ones to get vaccinated; not only for their own personal benefit, [but] so that we can have a blanket of protection over the entire community,” he said.

Fauci briefly mentioned Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee experiment as reasons members of minority communities may not trust government-approved vaccinations.

He explained why it will be important for individuals to have trust in a vaccine and encouraged members of minority communities to be part of clinical trials in the future.

“[I]f the overwhelming majority of the community is already protected because you’re vaccinated then vulnerable people who might not make a good response, who are sick and can’t get vaccinated — they are protected because the community is protected,” Fauci said.

Fauci also expressed the need to address inequities and social determinants of health that have plagued Black and brown communities once we are past the virus.

“I totally understand what you’ve been through, and I plead with you that we as a community, your community, the community that we all live in, can do something about this [pandemic], if we abide by the public health measures and get vaccinated.

He continued, “Don’t deprive yourself of the advantage of an extraordinarily important advance in science by not getting vaccinated. Protect yourselves, your family and your community.”

Following Fauci’s departure from the discussion, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh joined in to remind people to follow public health measures, including physical distancing when possible, washing your hands and wearing a mask.

Walsh explained how his COVID-19 Health Inequities Task Force, which White-Hammond sits on, will be involved when a vaccine becomes available.

“We need to make sure that people understand the importance of trusting the medical profession, and we need to get people vaccinated, we need to get people tested and we also need to, quite honestly, deal with health care in a whole different manner,” Walsh said.

“It’s not going to be done in one year, because you’re talking hundreds of years of racism, but I do think we have to continue to move forward in this moment of time,” he added.

In talking about equity when it comes to a coronavirus vaccine and how it’s distributed, Walsh said he hopes that it will be covered by insurance and not be as inaccessible as testing is for some in the state of Massachusetts.

“I see some people in Boston who can’t afford to get the test unless they go to one of our free clinics or health centers,” he said, “and if the vaccine is not covered by insurance then many Americans, many Bostonians will be cut out from even being able to get the vaccine.”

Walsh also took the time to remind people that slowing the spread of the virus is important as we wait for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

“The numbers are going up slower and slower every day, but they are still going up, so we need to do everything that we can to keep the hospitalizations down; the way we do that is by not contracting the virus,” Walsh said.