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Black Educators Take on Hesitancy as Gov. Newsom Issues COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate

Across California’s 58 counties, about 60% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated. Black people account for about 5.8% of California’s population and 4% of those who have been vaccinated. 

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Man with face mask has a lot of questions and doubts about covid 19 vaccine./iStock

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on with Black Californians still lagging behind on getting fully vaccinated, leaders in the state, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, are taking steps to push more people to get the shot. It is the most effective way, public health experts say, we will end the global public health crisis. 

To help slow the spread of COVID-19, Newsom signed an executive order late last month to extend telehealth services. Then, last week, the governor also made vaccines mandatory for all students at public and private schools. 

California’s school vaccination mandate will take effect for students enrolled in grades 7 through 12 one semester after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the vaccine for children 12 and older. The mandate will also apply to children under 12 after a vaccine is approved for that age group. 

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom,” Newsom said. “Vaccines work.

“It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Last month, Black educators from around the state met at the Reef Restaurant in Long Beach. One of the items on their agenda was getting to the bottom of why some Black Californians remain reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The event, themed “Vaccine Hesitancy: Understanding the Science and Getting people to Trust It,” was a presentation held during a meeting co-hosted by the California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAASA), along with along with the Los Angeles County Alliance of Black School Educators and the National Coalition.

In the process, participants said they wanted to provide some historical context. 

Lillie Tyson Head, daughter of a survivor of the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study in Tuskegee, talked about the far-reaching damage caused by the controversial and unethical research project.

“The men were told that they had ‘bad blood’ and that they would receive treatment,” Head said. “They were never told they were in a study and the intent of the study.”

She said the federal government study fostered distrust among African Americans of the health care system. 

“Forty-nine years after the study was exposed and 89 years after the study began, people, particularly in the African American communities, distrust certain medical treatment and medical research.  And they are using this study as reasons for hesitating getting vaccinated or refusing to get vaccinated at all,” Head said.

Dr. Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer at the Watts Healthcare Center, said there are built-in biases in the medical system that contribute to African American skepticism. 

“There are studies showing that African Americans are less likely to get cardiac studies and procedures, stents versus just medication. They get less treatment for pain when they come in with sickle cell and other injuries like femur fractures,” he said. “The mistrust with the medical system is valid. It is a decision based on primarily mistrust of the vaccine and mistrust with the healthcare system.” 

Head also encouraged people to get vaccinated although she acknowledged that she understood why some Black people remain hesitant.

“How fortunate and blessed we are to know about the types of COVID vaccines that are available today,” Head said. “Why then should we deny ourselves getting vaccinated? We all have the opportunity to be informed, receive advice from professionals we trust and understand how we can protect ourselves by getting vaccinated.”

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

Coronavirus

More Black Californians Taking COVID Shot as U.S. Reviews Vaccines for Younger Kids

Even as vaccination booster shots are becoming more readily available around the country, the COVID-19 Delta variant remains a significant threat in the U.S. and around the world. So, public health leaders are focused on expanding efforts get as many people as possible access to vaccinations and booster shots.

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Stock image of a doctor placing a bandaid on a young black female patient after a vaccination sitting on her mother's lap

Black Californians have joined Black Americans around the country in closing the COVID-19 vaccine equity gap.

As of October 11, Black Californians were 4.2% of Californians who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, up from 2.7% in February, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).  About 5.7% of the state’s population of nearly 40 million people are Black.

“Through our investments in targeted outreach and robust community-based partnerships, our work continues to reach the hardest-hit communities. Vaccines are how we end this pandemic,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom last week.  “I encourage all eligible Californians to visit MyTurn.ca.gov to schedule an appointment for their first dose or find a booster shot to keep themselves and their community healthy.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine equity gap is narrowing across the United States as about 11% of the people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine are Black Americans, a group that makes up 12.4% of the U.S. population.

U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, spoke with California Black Media last week about the importance of equity in the nation’s pandemic response.

“The way we define success with the vaccination effort isn’t just how many people got vaccinated, but how equitably and fairly we get the vaccine to people across our country,” Murthy said.

“We know that there are communities in our country that have been long underserved by the healthcare system and the victims of structural inequities and structural racism that have prevented them from getting the care that they need,” he continued.

Murthy spoke about some of the equity challenges leaders faced at the beginning of the pandemic. The approach the feds took to address some of those difficulties was similar to California’s strategy.

“Early on in the vaccination effort, we saw those disparities developing in the adult population with Black communities and Latino communities having lower vaccination rates than White communities,” Murthy said.

“But the good news is there has been a lot of effort over the last many months, which included a lot of outreach and partnerships with communities of color, with leaders and organizations in those communities, working hard to make sure we had mobile units out getting to communities to bring vaccines to where people are and getting vaccines directly to community health centers where we know a lot of folks get their care. All of these efforts together, along with making sure the vaccines are free and making sure as many doctors as possible have the vaccine in their offices, has helped us close a lot of that equity gap,” Murthy continued.

Even as vaccination booster shots are becoming more readily available around the country, the COVID-19 Delta variant remains a significant threat in the U.S. and around the world. So, public health leaders are focused on expanding efforts get as many people as possible access to vaccinations and booster shots.

“California is leading the nation in vaccinations, with 52 million administered and 86% of the eligible population having received at least one dose – today’s Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup recommendation on booster shots will help keep the momentum going as we enter the winter months,” Newsom said last week.

California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington state came together last year and created the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. The group, made up of scientists, medical professionals and public health experts, is charged with reviewing COVID-19 vaccine safety.

Last week, the workgroup recommended booster shots for vulnerable people and those who live or work in high-risk settings – if they have received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine prior.

“Recipients of the Moderna vaccine may receive a booster shot six months after completing their primary vaccination series, and recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may receive a booster shot two months after receiving their first dose,” the governor’s office said in a statement last week.

The workgroup also recommended a “mix-and-match” method, which means people who have received a Moderna vaccine can get a Johnson & Johnson booster shot and vice-versa.

Earlier this month, Newsom announced that California will be the first state in the nation to require children in middle school and high school to be vaccinated once COVID-19 vaccines for children are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA and the CDC will review data from Pfizer during the next two weeks to decide if COVID-19 vaccines are safe for even younger children, ages 5 through 11.

“Right now, what is happening is that the FDA is examining the data from Pfizer about clinical trials that concern kids 5-11 and they’re looking for two things: first is to understand if these vaccines work to protect our children from COVID and second, are they safe,” Murthy explained.

“Until they complete their review and make a decision on whether or not to offer the vaccine, we certainly won’t recommend them to the public or make a move to roll out vaccines. It’s all contingent upon the FDA’s review and the CDC’s recommendation,” according to Murthy.

Murthy also addressed the myth that young children are somehow immune to the effects of COVID-19.

“Even though kids do better than adults when it comes to COVID-19, it is not benign in children. We want to protect our children from the virus, and we also know that COVID has disrupted our kids’ lives in terms of making school difficult, interrupting youth sports, and making it hard to see friends and family members. So, getting our kids vaccinated is a big step towards not only protecting their health but helping them get their lives back,” Murthy said.

Murthy stressed the importance of equity and said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will continue to employ the same methods for children as they did for adults if the FDA and CDC approve vaccines for children in the 5-11 age range.

“We will bring the same commitment to vaccinating kids under 12. We are building on the great partnerships we have with community-based organizations and trusted leaders across the country. We are building on the access points that we’ve set up in the past and increasing those even further so there will be tens of thousands of places where people can get a vaccine for their children,” Murthy said.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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Business

California Warns Businesses, Landlords Using Felonies and COVID-19 to Discriminate

So far, the state has sent more than 500 notices to businesses informing them that they have violated protections put in place to protect people seeking work.  

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stock image of discrimination written in chalk on a chalkboard

The California state government has been reminding businesses across the state that it is illegal to discriminate against job applicants because of they have committed felonies or misdemeanors in the past.

Authorities in Sacramento have also taken steps to make sure businesses do not use COVID-related restrictions to deny entry to customers they do not want based on race or other factors.

So far, the state has sent more than 500 notices to businesses informing them that they have violated protections put in place to protect people seeking work.

“The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced a new effort to identify and correct violations of the Fair Chance Act, a pioneering state law that seeks to reduce barriers to employment for individuals with criminal histories,” a statement the DFEH released last week reads.

The Fair Chance act, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, was written to increase access to employment for Californians with criminal histories in an effort to reduce recidivism, among other goals. Employers with five or more employees are prohibited from asking a job candidate about conviction history during the hiring process or when advertising a vacancy.

The DFEH says it is implementing new technologies to conduct mass searches of online job applications that include unlawful statements. For example, some businesses explicitly state in hiring advertisements that they would not consider applicants with criminal records.

“Using technology to proactively find violations of the state’s anti-discrimination laws is a powerful strategy for our department to protect Californians’ civil rights,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “DFEH is committed to preventing employment discrimination through innovative enforcement actions and by providing clear guidance to employers.”

DFEH also released a toolkit to aid employers in adhering to the Fair Chance Act guidelines. The toolkit includes sample forms and guides that employers can use to follow required procedures; a suggested statement that employers can add to job advertisements and applications to let applicants know that they will consider individuals with criminal histories; answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Fair Chance Act and an informational video that explains the Fair Chance Act.

In addition, DFEH plans to release an interactive training and an online app in 2022.

The DFEH also released guidelines for businesses that will be implementing COVID-19 related entry restrictions to protect against discrimination based on race, sex, religious background and nationality.

While businesses have been encouraged to stay vigilant with mask mandates and vaccination verification for entry, the DFEH says it has also found it necessary to preemptively address refusal of entry that could be racially motivated masked as a COVID precaution.

“As Californians navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has provided guidance to protect civil rights and mitigate risk of COVID-19 transmission in employment, housing, healthcare, and, in our guidance released today, businesses open to the public,” said Kish. “We can and must uphold civil rights while simultaneously disrupting the spread of COVID-19.”

DFEH encourages individuals to report job advertisements in violation of the Fair Chance Act or other instances of discrimination.

DFEH is also encouraging the public to report housing ads that include discriminatory language that exclude certain racial groups, immigrants, people with felonies, applicants with Section 8 or HUD vouchers; etc.

Visit the DFEH website to file complaints.

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Coronavirus

Colin L. Powell, former Secretary of State, 84

Colin L. Powell, the first Black man to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Black Secretary of State, died Monday of complications of COVID-19. The 84-year-old was also diagnosed with and being treated for a form of blood cancer and Parkinson’s disease. 

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United States Army General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/ Wiki Commons

Colin L. Powell, the first Black man to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first Black Secretary of State, died Monday of complications of COVID-19. The 84-year-old was also diagnosed with and being treated for a form of blood cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

A four-star general who also served on the National Security Council, Powell was born in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrants in 1937. He attended public schools in the Bronx, where he grew up, and would graduate from City College of New York before joining the armed services in 1958 as a second lieutenant because of his participation in ROTC.

He was a professional soldier for 37 years, including two tours in Vietnam, rising steadily through the ranks until achieving 4-star general status in 1989 and, later that year, became the youngest and the first Afro-Caribbean to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense.

Powell was an exceptional military leader.  He earned the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Soldier’s Medal for heroism.

A moderate, the lifelong Republican was well liked by both political parties, but he ultimately decided against running for public office himself.

He was selected in 2000 to be Secretary of State, transforming General Powell from soldier to statesman.

He became known for persuading the American public and world leaders that Iraq was creating weapons of mass destruction when he ultimately agreed with President George Bush’s administration determination to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. 

It would turn out that the allegations of weapons of mass destruction were not true and Powell would consider the war and loss of life a blot on his record the rest of his life. He returned to private life in 2005 and became an acclaimed speaker in high demand.

He broke rank with his fellow Republicans when he supported then-candidate Barack Obama’s bid for president in 2008. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice.

Powell earned the trust of U.S. presidents, foreign leaders, diplomats, and the American people.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of General Colin Powell. I send my sincere condolences to General Powell’s wife, Alma, his family, his friends, and all of his loved ones” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

“General Powell was a trailblazer, serving as the first Black Secretary of State,” Lee continued. “I was fortunate enough to travel with General Powell during my early days in Congress to monitor elections in Nigeria and was moved by his kindness and expertise. I witnessed the close friendship between the late Congressman Ron Dellums, Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, and General Powell.

“Their relationship was a powerful example of a mutual admiration and respect between public officials despite their different opinions on policy. Despite our disagreements on some issues, General Powell was steadfast in his commitment to racial equity, diversity and our democracy. General Powell served this country with decency, integrity, and showed respect to everyone he encountered.

“May he rest in eternal peace and power,” Lee concluded.

Powell is survived by his wife, Alma, and three children.

Sources for this story include various news sites, Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s press office and Wikipedia.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

 

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