What I Learned at the American Frontline Doctors Summit
Now that a COVID vaccine is here, what are the implications for real people?
Many Americans were elated to hear the news about the completion of Operation Warp Speed — an initiative that brought two vaccines for COVID-19. But this historic medical countermeasure does not amuse many in the black community who have reservations about being first in line.
Headlines highlight medical experts’ insight that suggests black people should be first in line to take the vaccines. This has been met with much pushback from those who are familiar with the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which started in 1932 and lasted until 1972 and resulted in the deaths of numerous black participants.
For this reason, I joined a diverse gathering of concerned individuals for an informational meeting, led by Alveda King Ministries in partnership with the Urban Global Health Alliance, to hear members of the American Frontline Doctors offer clinical insight about the vaccinations. The event was led by Dr. Simone Gold, MD, JD, and founder of the nonprofit organization. She called this medical endeavor an “admirable example of public-private cooperation in the interest of public health” but stressed that ordinary Americans should be wary of risking their health and rights for an “experimental vaccine.”
Dr. Gold and other member physicians spoke at the summit, presenting findings from their recently released position paper that stresses the following recommendations:
That more research into the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness be done to address “possible fertility side effects in women of childbearing age.”
That more transparency is necessary before American citizens participate in what could be the “largest experimentation program and contact-tracing model” in U.S. history.
That prioritization based on race be avoided and that physicians use their own judgement with individual patients. Also a call for opt-out policies to continue with this vaccination as done with others.
That “commercial pressures” could lead to a “threat to privacy and other civil liberties.”
These four issues were among many discussed during the meeting, but race prioritization caught many ears. For one, I always question anything that targets black Americans to take any particular position all on account of the color of their skin. Witnessing the first recipient of the vaccine in the U.S. — a black nurse — brought little encouragement and summoned many questions, the biggest being: “Is being black truly the biggest risk factor?”
During the summit, Dr. Gold shared from the position paper that there is a 1% death rate of African natives from coronavirus. That statement left me to wonder whether these calls for black people to get the vaccine truly means that being black is a risk factor on its own.
Indeed, black Americans are at greater risk for hypertension and diabetes — factors that are known to make COVID-19 complications worse. So why can’t we address those issues in the fight against the virus? Is the vaccine the only way? Dr. Chris Beyrer, infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, says the vaccines aren’t aimed at preventing infection from getting into the body but rather stops or lessens the disease. Even this knowledge leaves more questions like: Will we still need to socially distance or wear a mask? If the vaccines stop or lessen COVID, then what do we hope a cloth on our face will do?
Lastly, the biggest concern for Americans is a mandate. Questions arise as to whether airlines and stores will require a sort of pass confirming one’s vaccine status. This, I feel, would be too much to reveal of one’s privacy. Denying services based on one’s health status should be deemed incompatible with a country that cherishes Liberty. I feel it could also set a scary precedent for other health conditions and illnesses. My hope and prayer is that businesses large and small do not limit the fundamental American value of Liberty for their fellow citizens — not just for our sake but for theirs.
Overall, this comprehensive inquiry into the vaccines isn’t meant to be taken as an anti-vax position. Americans should be free to do as they will. This is about asking critical questions and understanding all possible options to help us navigate the pandemic safely and without potential threats to our nation’s enviable way of life. Perhaps this is in my blood, but anytime someone tells me I need to do anything “for the greater good,” I need to know whether that “good” is intended for me.
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