We now have two antidotes to the chaos that grips our country. First, the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer which will finally bring the raging pandemic under control is circulating throughout the U.S.
The second is the impending inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, compliments of Monday’s Electoral College confirmation. That action marked an end to the pernicious degradation of our democracy by Trump supporters.
I think many would argue that the vaccine was developed and fast-tracked despite Trump’s denigration of scientists and their efforts and bullying of the FDA. We owe our scientific community a huge debt of gratitude. In addition to those on the health care front lines, they join the ranks of our heroes including a brilliant Black woman — highly praised by Dr. Anthony Fauci — viral immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett of the NIH. Kudos also to U.S. Army General Gustave Perna responsible for a so-far-flawless vaccine distribution.
For sure the vaccine is a “light at the end of the tunnel,” and the impending Moderna vaccine and others in the pipeline will further illuminate the way. But getting to a 75% to 80% vaccine injection rate is a critical goal because it would offer “herd immunity” that would help us turn the corner to normal.
Many in the Black community just do not trust the vaccine or the “warp speed” at which it was produced. Trump’s many attempts at politicizing the project hasn’t engendered a lot of trust. I don’t blame them, but at the same time, it would be a shame if those communities most traumatized by the pandemic are left behind because of lack of trust. I know there has been a monumental history of mistreatment of the Black community by the medical profession — from the infamous, appalling Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the exploitation of Henrietta Lack, the sad saga of Dr. Charles Drew, to name a few that were made public. But this is a new day, one of increased transparency and accountability.
On Monday, I was thrilled to cheer on Sandra Lindsay, a Black ICU nurse in New York who got the first dose of the vaccine. “I trust the science,” she said.
Locally, Governor Charlie Baker has had both a hit and a miss in handling the dual pandemics of the virus and racial injustice. He scored big with the appointment of my longtime friend the Rev. Liz Walker, pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, to his COVID 19 Vaccine Advisory Group. Rev. Walker has the community’s trust, and her outreach will make a difference. Last night she partnered with the Rev Gloria White Hammond of Bethel AME for a discussion on “Trauma, Trust and Truth: Coping in the next season of the coronavirus pandemic.” They were joined by keynote speaker Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. These three women understand the dynamics of trauma because they have confronted it in their missions, or experienced it firsthand.
But the Governor has missed the mark in another area — his response to the police reform bill. His support of facial recognition technology as a crime-fighting tool overlooks its inherent racial bias as studies by MIT and others have shown. In one test, for example, Oprah Winfrey was identified as a man. It is also most troubling that he feels that civilians should not contribute advice relevant to police training. Huh? Of course they should. Especially since some will bear the brunt of ill-advised and maybe even deadly actions that need to change. Here in Massachusetts civilians have led the way on the push for body cam use, for example, and spearheaded community policing efforts.
The vaccine has definitely ushered in help and hope for a new day. That’s a good thing because there is still so much work to do to bring us together around fairness and equity.
Joyce Ferriabough Bolling is a media and political strategist and communications specialist