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Black Ministers on J&J Vaccine Pause: Transparency Needed to Regain Public Trust

“This is alarming,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California. “People were already leery. But we put our name out there to help get people vaccinated. Many of us thought the one-shot J&J vaccine was the best for people in our community.”

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Some Black ministers in Southern California say authorities failed to keep them up to speed with developments before halting administration of the J&J vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed blood clots, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, during clinical trials.

 One of the women died.

“This is alarming,” said the Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California. “People were already leery. But we put our name out there to help get people vaccinated. Many of us thought the one-shot J&J vaccine was the best for people in our community.”

Tulloss said the week before the CDC decision to pause the vaccine, the Baptist Minsters Conference hosted a site for the governor’s emergency team and FEMA. Over 2,300 people were vaccinated through the program. 

“No one reached out to us. I had to hear about this on the news,” said Tulloss. “We were left in the dark, blind — not able to share with those concerned what was the next step and how this is happening. It will cause a greater harm for African Americans and our community as a whole. People were not trusting these vaccines. Supervisor Holly Mitchell was the only one who convened a conversation with the ministers to let us know what was going on. She’s the only one we heard from.”

 Many Black public health experts agree that there needs to be more transparency. 

“We’ve got to be fully transparent because when something goes wrong, it looks like we have targeted this particular community, whether it’s Black, Latinx, or the Asian community. When it comes out that something’s wrong with this vaccine it’s going to look malicious, even if it’s not,” said Dr. Kim Rhoads, director of the Office of Community Engagement at the University of California, San Francisco.

The same day the CDC announced the pause, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), announced that it is adhering to the CDC’s advice.

“Today, the CDC and FDA have recommended a temporary pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine out of an abundance of caution. Of over 6.8 million doses administered nationally, there have been six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot with symptoms occurring 6 to 13 days after vaccination,” said Dr. Erica Pan, a leading California state epidemiologist. 

“California is following the FDA and CDC’s recommendation and has directed health care providers to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until we receive further direction from health and safety experts,” Pan continued. 

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said he expects the federal government to make an announcement about whether it will proceed with or permanently halt the J&J vaccine by the end of this week.

 The J&J vaccine first grabbed national attention when it was hailed as the “one-and-done” shot, the country’s only one-dose vaccine, allocated to some segments of California’s underserved communities, such as the homeless population.

Faith-based leaders working closely with the state to administer vaccines in these communities said the pause is a setback for vaccine equity.

 But last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom sounded confident.

He told Californians that J&J vaccines accounted for only 4% of California’s total supply that week. The governor is among the millions of people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“It will not materially impact our ability to fulfill our expectations and commitment to provide enough vaccines to fully vaccinate all those that seek to get vaccinated, so that we can begin to fully open our economy by June 15,” said Gov. Newsom, referring to the pause.

But Black health experts are stressing that, now more than ever, pharmaceutical companies and research institutions need to be transparent about the vaccine science. They say that is critical to counteracting vaccine hesitancy.

Rhoads, who is also the founder of Umoja Health, a Bay Area community healthcare organization, helped pioneer the pop-up site model currently used by the state as a template for setting up mass vaccine sites in an effort to promote equity in vaccine distribution.

 “I want to emphasize where we as academic institutions keep going wrong is a lack of transparency, we want to paint a rosy picture, we want to convince people to get vaccinated instead of giving people information to make their own decisions,” she said.

 The medical and public health expert emphasized that the state needs to build a relationship with the African American community to establish trust that can grow at a good pace.

“We don’t build relationships, we think of outreach – which is not a relationship,” said Rhoads.

 “If you don’t have a relationship with the community, then you’re not going to have trust,” she said.

 Healthcare policy and advocacy groups hosted virtual discussion forums to address the rising doubts in the Black community nationwide since the FDA and CDC announced the J&J vaccine pause. The California Black Health Network was among the various organizations to lead discussions on vaccine hesitancy and health equity with medical experts including the Surgeon General of California Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.

Burke Harris stressed the importance of vaccines for public safety and encouraged people who received the J&J vaccine to consult healthcare providers to mediate their concerns.

“The reasons why the CDC and the FDA decided to put a pause on the use of the vaccine and issue this health alert is also to help healthcare providers know what to look out for,” she said.

Harris said that the state is dedicated to being more transparent about vaccine efforts to keep the public safe.

 “The key piece is that we want to maintain public confidence in our process, and in the safety and efficacy of our vaccines, and in our ability to be transparent,” said Harris.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 is a novel virus which means that the human body does not have the natural ability to produce antibodies that can fight the virus. Scientific research also shows that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 still need to get vaccinated.   

Recent studies have shown that pregnant women who get vaccinated are the first to birth babies with immunity to COVID-19.

The advocacy work of African American faith-based leaders has led to a statewide partnership between the state and 200 places of worship to boost vaccine equity.

So far, the state has provided close to 40,000 vaccines at the pop-up sites hosted by faith-based organizations. The state plans to provide the pop-up sites with at least 25,000 vaccines to immunize people in underserved communities.

 State officials confirmed that the California Governor’s Vaccine Task Force is working closely with the CDC and FDA to discuss plans to reopen the state by June this year.

“This pandemic disease remains deadly. The way we defeat this disease is to get vaccinated. The sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner we open up our businesses,” said Newsom.

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

African American News & Issues

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Announces National Health Equity Strategy to Confront the Nation’s Crisis in Racial Health Disparities Sets Goal to Reduce Racial Disparities in Maternal Health by 50% in Five Years

“Your health shouldn’t depend on the color of your skin or the neighborhood you live in,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA. “The crisis in racial disparities in our country’s health care is unconscionable and unacceptable. While BCBS companies have made great strides in addressing racial health disparities in our local communities, there is so much more to be done.”

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CHICAGO, IL (April 20, 2021) – Today, as part of its ongoing mission to improve the health of America, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) announced its National Health Equity Strategy to confront the nation’s crisis in racial health disparities. This strategy intends to change the trajectory of heath disparities and re-imagine a more equitable healthcare system. BCBSA has convened a national advisory panel of doctors, public health experts and community leaders to provide guidance.
“Your health shouldn’t depend on the color of your skin or the neighborhood you live in,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA. “The crisis in racial disparities in our country’s health care is unconscionable and unacceptable. While BCBS companies have made great strides in addressing racial health disparities in our local communities, there is so much more to be done.”
“Starting here and starting now, we can begin to put an end to the racial disparities in health care,” continued Keck. “Our deep roots in the local communities we serve, combined with the scale and scope of our national reach, enable all of us at Blue Cross Blue Shield companies to drive this new strategy and bring real change. But we cannot do it alone. It is a moment in time when we as a nation must come together to build a new model of equitable health care.”

BCBSA’s National Health Equity Strategy is comprehensive and relies on close collaboration with providers and local community organizations. This collaboration was essential in recent months as BCBS companies worked with local leaders to support vulnerable communities with COVID-19 vaccine access. The strategy includes collecting data to measure disparities, scaling effective programs, working with providers to improve outcomes and address unconscious bias, leaning into partnerships at the community level, and influencing policy decisions at the state and federal levels. The multi-year strategy will focus on four conditions that disproportionately affect communities of color: maternal health, behavioral health, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions. BCBSA will first focus on maternal health, then behavioral health in 2021.
Setting a Goal to Address Racial Disparities in Maternal Health BCBSA has set a public goal to reduce racial disparities in maternal health by 50% in five years.
“BCBS companies are fully committed to reach this goal,” said Keck. “We will continue to collaborate with our local partners and providers to continually improve our programs and build momentum, and we will seek out new ideas and proven initiatives that accelerate health equity reform.”
Metrics will include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Severe Maternal Morbidity measures. BCBSA will report results annually. Use of nationally consistent measures will evolve over time based on research, industry development, and in-market learnings.
BCBS companies currently have a range of maternal health programs supporting women of color during their pregnancies. Each program is tailored to the needs of the communities they serve. These BCBS companies’ maternal health programs support both BCBS members and non-members of their partner organizations.

Commenting on the breadth of the BCBS companies’ maternal health programs, Dr. Rachel Hardeman, Founding Director, Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity and Assistant Professor, Division of Health Policy & Management, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and member of the newly formed advisory panel, said: “Who better to address racial disparities in maternal health than Blue Cross Blue Shield? BCBS companies serve every ZIP code across the U.S., and they have the scale and resources needed to ensure women of color get equitable maternal health care.”
A Panel of Experts Focused on Closing America’s Gap in Health Equity “The more people we bring to the table, the more we can create lasting change,” said Keck about the nine handpicked members of the BCBSA National Advisory Panel on Health Equity. “I’m excited we have brought together such experienced, highly regarded leaders in health equity and the community, and I look forward to their guidance as we move forward.”
Members include: Tracey D. Brown, CEO of the American Diabetes Association®; Marshall Chin, MD, MPH, Richard Parrillo Family Professor of Healthcare Ethics at the University of Chicago; Gilbert Darrington, CEO of Health Services, Incorporated; Adaeze Enekwechi, PhD, MPP, Research Associate Professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University; Maria S. Gomez, RN, MPH, President and CEO of Mary’s Center; Rachel R. Hardeman, PhD, MPH, Tenured Associate Professor in the Division of Health Policy & Management at the University of Minnesota; Stacey D. Stewart, President and CEO of March of Dimes; Richard Taylor, CEO of ImbuTec; and Kevin Washington, President and CEO of YMCA of the USA. The National Health Equity Strategy is part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Pledge to Make Meaningful Change. The Pledge speaks to BCBS companies’ broad commitment to addressing racial disparity in health and all its forms.

ABOUT BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD ASSOCIATION
The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is a national federation of 35 independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies that collectively provide healthcare coverage for one in three Americans. BCBSA provides healthcare insights through The Health of America Report series and the national BCBS Health IndexSM. For more information on BCBSA and its member companies, please visit BCBS.com. We also encourage you to connect with us on Facebook, check out our videos on YouTube and follow us on Twitter and Instagram. You can read our Pledge to Make Meaningful Change here. To learn more about our National Health Equity Strategy and our Maternal Health Program, visit BlueHealthEquity.com.

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Activism

D.C. Statehood is a Voting Rights Issue… and Racial Justice Issue

The disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of D.C. residents is fundamentally un-American and there is no good reason to allow it to continue.

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Washington, D.C. has a higher percentage of Black residents than any state in the country, and they have no voting representation in Congress. This is systemic racism in action. It is long past time to give Washington’s 712,000 residents the representation they deserve by making D.C. our 51st state.
It is shameful that people who live in the nation’s capital have no say in Congress. And it is unacceptable that local laws and budgets passed by D.C. elected officials can be overturned by members of Congress who decide to meddle in local decision-making. That explains why Washington, D.C.’s license plates include the slogan, “End taxation without representation,” a rallying cry by American colonists against the tyranny of British rule.
The disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of D.C. residents is fundamentally un-American and there is no good reason to allow it to continue. There are bogus reasons to oppose statehood, and some Republicans in Congress have been trotting them out now that legislation to admit Washington, D.C. as a statehood bill is moving forward in Congress.
Some claim that Washington, D.C. is too small to be a state. But D.C. has more residents than either Vermont or Wyoming. There are currently six states whose population is less than a million. D.C. pays more federal taxes than 21 states—and more federal taxes per person than any state.
Some make the false claim that it would require a constitutional amendment to make Washington, D.C. a state. Not true. The Constitution clearly gives Congress the authority to admit new states.
That’s how every one of the 37 states that were not initially part of the U.S. have joined the country. The original District of Columbia was created out of land from Maryland and Virginia. In 1846, a good chunk of D.C. was returned to Virginia. No constitutional amendment was required then, and none is required now to admit Washington, D.C. as a new state. Some objections are so idiotic, frankly, that they must be a cover for pure partisanship or worse.
In March, a Heritage Foundation legal fellow testifying before Congress said that D.C. residents shouldn’t get representation in Congress because they can already influence congressional debates by placing yard signs where members of Congress might see them on their way to work. One Republican congressman said (wrongly) that D.C. would be the only state without a car dealership. Another said that D.C. doesn’t have enough mining, agriculture, or manufacturing. Mitch McConnell said the plan to make D.C. a state was evidence of “full bore socialism on the march.”
At least some Republicans are honest about their real reason for opposing statehood:  they just don’t want to let D.C. voters elect Democratic officials who will support progressive policies supported by the majority of the American people.
But that is not a principled position. None of the objections to D.C. statehood hold water, especially when weighed against the basic injustice of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of people.
Washingtonians have fought in every U.S. war. About 30,000 D.C. residents are veterans. But D.C.’s mayor does not even have the ability that governors have to mobilize its own National Guard—a fact that proved to be deadly during the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection.
The bottom line in this: how can we hold ourselves out as a model of democracy when we are the only democratic country in the world that denies representation and self-governance to the people who live in its capital? We can’t.
As the Biden administration recognized in announcing its support for D.C. statehood, it is long past time to correct this injustice. The House of Representatives voted on April 22, to admit Washington, D.C. as a state. Senate leaders must not allow filibuster rules or Republican resistance to prevent Congress from righting this wrong.

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Activism

Civil Rights Before the Loving Decision

Loving v. Virginia was a landmark civil rights case in 1967 that recognized marriage as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which includes the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.

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Not so recently in the United States, same sex marriages were illegal. In the last century, there were laws on the books that prohibited folks from different races marrying.  

Loving v. Virginia was a landmark civil rights case in 1967 that recognized marriage as a fundamental right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which includes the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.

In 1958, Mildred Loving, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for violating the state of Virginia’s laws prohibiting their marriage.

That conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1968, ending discrimination in marriage based on race.

The Loving decision was a catalyst in 2015 to help abolish discrimination in marriage in same-sex marriages, which allowed for equality in the LGBTQ communities of all races including this author.

Before the Loving decision, Joan Steinau, a white woman, married Julius Lester, who at the time was a singer and a photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Julius later became a writer.  

Joan and Julius were divorced in 1970.

Next month, Joan’s memoir, “Loving before Loving:  A Marriage in Black and White,” will be released. In the book, she recounts her marriage to Julius Lester before the Loving decision in the midst of the civil rights era as a wife, mother, and activist. 

In an interview with the Post, she said,   “Given both the erasure and distortion of Black lives as presented in the white-led media, the existence of a robust Black press . . .has been essential to the survival and thriving of Black community.”

Quoting the Chicago Daily Defender in her memoir, she said, “When one of its reporters asked President Truman, after he said school integration might lead to intermarriage, ‘Would you want your daughter to marry a Black man if she loved him?’ The president responded with a typical segregationist attitude of the time, ‘She won’t love anybody that’s not her color.’   It was important for the Black reporter to be there, because of course he assumed the possibility that naturally she could love anyone and pointed that out with his question.”

She added,  “That’s just one example of a long history of significant advocacy and reportage by hundreds of Black newspapers over the last 150 years. The Post News Group has jumped into the gap regionally to fill this important space, and I’m grateful for it. Until we have true representation of all experiences/perspectives at major media outlets, we will continue to need media targeted to excluded groups.

“My own history with Oakland/Berkeley dates to the 1980s when I began to visit from the East Coast and plot a way to move here. In 1991, my wife and I did settle in Berkeley. We immediately joined a predominantly Black church in Oakland and began creating a friendship circle. The diverse culture here was high on our list of reasons to move from our predominantly white area in New England. And it has been everything we hoped for.”

Joan Lester dedicates this memoir to her wife, Carole.  In addition to this memoir, she is a commentator, columnist and book author.

“Loving before Loving A Marriage in Black and White” by Joan Steinau Lester is available for pre-order now and on sale on May 18 on Amazon and at local bookstores.

For more information log onto JoanLester.com.

Wikipedia was a source for this story.

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