My faithful readers know that Gwen Washington, 87, is feisty and fearless. My mother, as they say, “don’t take no stuff.”
She demands what is rightfully hers, and then some, from the store manager at her neighborhood Walgreens to powerful Chicago politicians. She has stood toe-to-toe with former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Now we are hearing about “vaccine hesitancy,” especially among African Americans and other people of color.
In-depth political coverage, sports analysis, entertainment reviews and cultural commentary.
Gwen isn’t hesitant. She is a self-appointed ambassador for the COVID-19 vaccine. “I would advise anyone who is African American to take the shot,” she says.
For weeks, my mother has been badgering her doctors, nurses and everyone else within earshot: “Where is the vaccine? Don’t you know how old I am?”
The email with an invitation to make an appointment finally arrived. On Thursday, she took an Uber from her Hyde Park apartment to the University of Chicago Hospital to get her first of two doses of the precious commodity.
“I got the Pfizer shot!” she declared to me on the phone. “It only took a second!”
How did it go?
“My experience was 200 percent!”
It was quick and easy, she said, with no side effects.
Now my mother is spreading the vaccine gospel, calling all her friends and family. “You’d better try to get that shot!” she exhorts.
Mama is a book addict and news junkie. She knows all about vaccine hesitancy.
When asked if they would get a COVID-19 vaccine that was free and determined to be safe by scientists, 62% of Black Americans said they “definitely” or “probably” would get it, compared to 71% for Hispanics and 73% of whites, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
African Americans harbor deep fears about offering their arms to the COVID-19 vaccine. Some cite horrific, historic instances of exploitation and discrimination against Blacks by the U.S. medical system.
Such as the Tuskegee experiment. Back in the day, Mama’s favorite teacher at DuSable High School, the great Black historian Margaret Burroughs, schooled her on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
For 40 years, starting in 1932, doctors in the South secretly withheld treatment from Black men who had been infected with sexually transmitted diseases so as to monitor and study the deadly impact.
“It was wrong, but it was done years ago,” Mama says. “The medical community has come a long way. I believe in Dr. Fauci.”
My mother trusts doctors, science and the massive effort being made to end this 21st Century plague.
And, she points out, “Black people are being affected more (by COVID-19) than other communities.”
Gwen is most annoyed by misinformation and false rumors about the vaccine.
One friend told her: “I hear people are fainting in the hospital after receiving the vaccine.” Another friend said: They want to use “us” as “guinea pigs.”
We have been lied to and discriminated against for so long that we are susceptible to the myths.
About half of Black adults who are reluctant to take the vaccine, according to the Kaiser study, “cite as major reasons that they don’t trust vaccines in general (47%), or that they are worried they may get COVID-19 from the vaccine (50%).”
This suggests, the study concludes, “that messages combating particular types of misinformation may be especially important for increasing vaccine confidence among this group.”
Mama’s message: “People need to realize this is dangerous. You just have to use common sense.”
She can’t wait to get her follow-up shot next month.
“I don’t want to die tomorrow,” she said.
Gwen has too much to do.
Laura Washington and Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet will host their next At The Virtual Table, a lively discussion of politics that features special guests, at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 18.
Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.