'Operation Warp Speed' hits speedbumps in vaccinating communities

Posted at 6:33 PM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 21:30:50-05

CENTRAL TEXAS — Despite ongoing efforts by the county and health systems to roll out the new COVID-19 vaccine, studies show communities of color find it difficult to trust the system.

Look at polls today and you'll find fears about COVID and even it's vaccine, with mistrust high in African-American and Latino communities.

As people stand in long lines for a coronavirus vaccine, the reaction from many minority communities is mistrust.

"I'm cool. I'm not taking that," said Richard Starr, who says even with studies showing high efficacy rates, a shot in the arm does not reassure him.

"Did I get the flu shot? Heck no! I don't even do the flu shot! I had the flu shot 3 time in my life, and 3 times in my life I had the flu!" said Starr.

"Of all forms inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane," said Dr. Lee Kirksey of the Cleveland Clinic.

He says centuries of medical malpractice on Black people like during the Tuskegee Experiment have taken a heavy toll.

The 40 year test left Black men infected with syphilis as doctors studied their symptoms.

"Those are the stories that we in the African American community have grown up on," he explains.

Texas politicians stress the vaccine here remains strictly voluntary.

McLennan County Commissioner Pat Miller urges us all to overcome our fears and get the vaccination.

”I do understand the historic skepticism of the vaccine especially in minority communities,” she said.

She says, keeping history in mind, no one would dare try anything dishonest with this many people watching.

She says times have changed and so have scientists.

"They are very dedicated to their task and very honorable in what they do so I cannot conceive of any scientist doing anything outside of what's normal and ethical in the production of this vaccine," said the commissioner.

It's a belief she says made stronger because of the past that's brought increased scrutiny to the present.

Dick Peery grew up hearing whispers about vaccines until polio outbreaks made him a believer.

"Every few years, one would hit town. Kids could not play with each other. We couldn't go swimming all summer long. Everyone was scared to death," he recalled.

But doctors say those lessons learned from polio, can help in the fight against COVID.

"There is much greater transparency right now in terms of science," says Kirksey, of the Cleveland Clinic.

And while McLennan County Commissioner Patricia Miller, who sits on the county's Vaccine Planning Coalition, reminds us getting the COVID vaccine will remain voluntary, it's importance remains sobering.

"COVID-19 is very serious, especially for certain populations. Individuals 65 years and older, individuals with underlying, critical underlying medical conditions, and it does lead to hospitalization, it does lead to ICU admittance leads to people being on ventilators, and sometimes it leads to death. So you have to weigh how you feel about taking a vaccine that was rushed to market," she said.

Infectious disease experts say this novel virus got a novel approach when it comes to a vaccine because Chinese researchers had already published its genetic information, giving scientists a jump-start.

McLennan County Health Authority Dr. Farley Verner has said the new approach makes the COVID vaccine among the most effective ever created by humans.

"It's the second dose of vaccine that triggers the immune response after being primed by the first vaccine," he explained.

Commissioner Miller asks can you afford the bill for COVID when a free vaccine can eliminate the need for it?

"I think we should do all we can to help ensure the safety of ourselves, our families and our community," she said.

Peery says it worked with polio.

"They could put just a few drops of the vaccine on a sugar cube, then you eat the sugar cube and you're safe for the rest of your life," he recalled.

Now in his '80's, he embraces science and will get the COVID-19 vaccine shots.

"I try to go by what virologists say," he explained.