CLEVELAND — Many are concerned that the nationwide pause on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine recommended by the CDC and FDA will have a negative impact on the overall vaccine roll out and contribute to even more vaccine hesitancy.
Now, local community leaders are thinking of ways to combat that before it gets out of control. They said transparency and education are key to easing the public’s doubts and fears.
Lois Arnold got her second shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Wolstein Center mass vaccination site Tuesday, but it wasn’t without some hesitation.
“Because I'm a black older lady, I felt that it wasn't for me,” Arnold said.
But eventually, she came around, thanks to her faith.
“When I was still around when the vaccination came up, I said well maybe that's a sign from God to keep doing his will and his service. I came out and got it,” Arnold said.
Community leaders are working to get more people like Arnold vaccinated, but the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause might make that process even harder.
“I think anybody who would act like that's not going to have an impact is just not being honest with themselves,” Cleveland NAACP president Danielle Sydnor said.
Sydnor said the NAACP has been doing outreach to folks in the Black community since the beginning of the pandemic, breaking down decades of medical mistrust to prepare them for the vaccine rollout.
Despite that, the numbers of vaccinations among Black people have fallen short.
“There's not a lack of awareness that people can get the vaccine. They do not want it,” Sydnor said. “We have to be doing more to ease the concerns, to create space where people can ask their specific questions of what's mRNA versus viral vectors. These are things that we generally don't have to navigate in our day-to-day lives. And everybody doesn't have a primary care physician that they can walk into and ask these questions.”
Sydnor said education about the vaccine is the key to getting more shots in arms.
“We're trying to get the state and other partners to really trust us to be a voice to help break this information down in a way that our community can trust and digest it. But to make sure that we have good partners like medical professionals that can be there to answer the very specific question,” Sydnor said.
She commended the CDC and FDA for their transparency, which she said will help community leaders get valuable information to the neighborhoods they serve. Sydnor listened in to an informational call provided to members of the media Tuesday to educate herself in order to inform community members.
“We don't want anybody to feel like they were got by the system or they were misled because that is what the Tuskegee experiment and other things were. They were being totally misled. There was no transparency. This is very different. The government is being very open in saying we want to protect you,” Sydnor said. “The government is being very open in saying we want to protect you. Let's slow this down, let's be cautious and let's do what's right.”
Dr. Laolu Fayanju, the regional medical director at Oak Street Health, a primary care facility that specifically opens locations in underserved communities, also believes the FDA and CDC are taking the right steps. However, he is worried about the impact the J&J vaccine’s pause could have on vaccination efforts.
“When I did see it, I did feel it immediately -- this is probably not going to be helpful in our efforts to get more people vaccinated,” Fayanju said.
Oak Street has vaccinated hundreds of people since the rollout began, and Dr. Fayanju has spent time speaking with patients to address their questions and concerns.
Now, he’s focused on educating people about everything from signs and symptoms of vaccine side effects, the availability of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and the benefits of getting vaccinated versus the risks.
“Truth is the elixir of fear. I think that it can cure fear and it can help lower and diminish people's fears. So we're going to always try to be forthright with our patients and tell them what's going on at Oak Street,” Fayanju said. “We know we will work with folks who are older and generally tend to come from communities of color. And we want to make sure that they know that we're on their side and we're looking out for them.”
Fayanju wants people who received the J&J vaccine to be aware of the symptoms associated with the rare clotting issue some people have experienced after getting that vaccine. The condition is called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Symptoms include:
- Isolated intracranial hypertension syndrome (headache with or without vomiting, papilledema (swelling in the eye due to increased intracranial pressure and visual problems)
- Focal syndrome (focal deficits, seizures, or both)
- Encephalopathy (multifocal signs, mental status changes, stupor, or coma)
Church leaders are also doing their part to combat potential vaccine hesitancy.
Pastor Kyo Cummings of Ebenezer Assembly of Christ church said education is the path he’s chosen to take too. The church has helped people register for vaccinations.
“We are concerned about the community. We are concerned about people,” Cummings said.
In light of the J&J pause, he’s encouraging his congregation to do research, talk to their doctors, and consider the other options available.
“We also know the other two vaccines so far have not had issues with the blood clots. So let's remember that too, there's three vaccinations out there,” Cummings said. “See everything that you can find and make the best decision for you.”
Sydnor said the NAACP is partnering with AARP to organize a vaccine town hall later this month. She also said state health officials are working with Ohio’s NAACP conference to train NAACP members about vaccines so they can inform community members.
“Many of these conversations are happening at dinner tables at the beauty salon, barbershop, car wash in places where we eat and dine. And so we need to make sure we have more members of the community who have enough talking points to go out and say, well, here's where you should look if you're confused or you have concerns or have issues,” Sydnor said.
You can get information about how to sign up for vaccines at Oak Street Health here.
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