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Bankole Thompson: Detroit vaccine hesitancy a bad mix with COVID-19 spike

Michigan has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the nation, a worrying distinction given the toll that the virus has already taken on the state and cities like Detroit.

Detroit cannot afford to relive another painful chapter of the deaths it witnessed during the first wave of the pandemic. Yet Wayne County is seeing an increase in cases.

Vaccine hesitancy in the Black community stemming from the history of racism and abuse in the medical system remains an issue. The conversation about the need to get vaccinated is often a Pandora’s box on medical racism. On my radio show, I hear from callers who are still very skeptical about the vaccines.

A recent report that Detroit's vaccination rate is lagging behind other regions raises questions about what the administration of Mayor Mike Duggan is doing to tackle the problem right away.

“Getting more people vaccinated is at the heart of addressing COVID-19, particularly this most recent surge,” said Detroit’s Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair. “As you know, Detroit is running perhaps the most efficient and effective vaccination site in the county, where any eligible Detroit can call a single phone number and get vaccinated within a couple of days.”

“In addition to the vaccinations taking place at TCF, the Health Department also has administered about 50,000 doses to Detroiters across more than 180 neighborhood-based locations in the city,” Fair continued. “We've found that many people are much more receptive to this neighborhood-based approach and we will be significantly expanding on that strategy in the coming days and weeks.”

Fair’s sense of optimism doesn’t reconcile with reality as Detroit is trailing behind other southeast Michigan counties’ vaccination rates. That means the Duggan administration needs to go back to the drawing board and find the most effective way to curtail the pandemic in the city.

“After tedious research I am now fully vaccinated,” said Sam Riddle, a Detroit political analyst. “Given my age of 74 coupled with being a congestive heart failure survivor on my second pacemaker defibrillator, the two shots of the Moderna vaccination were an easy decision for me.”

For Riddle, the city’s low vaccination rate points to a trust issue with the administration.

“Lack of trust represents a major disconnect between majority Black Detroit and the Duggan administration,” Riddle said.

The Rev. Aaron McCarthy, the president of the Detroit chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights organization co-founded by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said he is fully vaccinated, but he is concerned that vaccine hesitancy could spell trouble for Detroit. 

“I have been vaccinated and I have had no side effects,” McCarthy said. “The problem is we are not all on the same page in trying to protect ourselves against the virus. I do believe that everyone in the city should be vaccinated. We as Black people are the hardest hit on everything because we are the most unprotected.”

McCarthy added: “If we don’t get this vaccination together it could be a disaster for our community. We need a strong advocacy for this vaccination drive. A lot of people don’t trust it because of the Tuskegee experiment, and that’s been so long ago.”

The resurgence of the virus tells us more work must be done. If not, the coming summer won't be good for the city.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.