From Virus To Vaccine: COVID-19 & The Black Community (Pt. 4)

In part four of the special, KDKA's Bryant Reed explores the role that the church and faith play in health, the pandemic, information regarding the pandemic and the vaccination. Then, the panel discusses the influence the community has on public health in the Black community.

Video Transcript

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LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Welcome back. We have so much information to cover here. Sometimes I feel like an hour just isn't enough time. But certainly, I think when we talk about anything within the African-American community, it's hard to have a conversation without looking at the role of the church, looking at the role of religion within our community. And when we're talking about illness, we're talking about a vaccine, we're talking about science, you got to look at where does the church fit into all of this. Well, we had an opportunity to do just that and one of the newest members of the KDKA family did just that. Let's see what Bryant Reed found out.

WILLIAM CURTIS: My congregation knows what I try to do is give them enough truth and information that their faith can seek understanding.

BRYANT REED: Mount Ararat Baptist Church is one of the larger churches in the Pittsburgh area. And like all other churches, they had to close their doors when the pandemic began. But Reverend William Curtis says that only made the message he preaches that much stronger.

WILLIAM CURTIS: The African-American community trusts its religious leaders and its religious institutions. We are the community of total information gathering. So there's nothing off limits. And as a result of that, this becomes a safe space to have crucial conversations.

BRYANT REED: And right now, those conversations are mostly about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Reverend Curtis is keenly aware of the longstanding distrust of the healthcare system by many in the African-American community. That's why he decided to reach out to doctors, Tracy and Christopher Conti, to form a partnership. Blending medicine and religion for the greater good.

WILLIAM CURTIS: While there was some initial paranoia and some initial anxiety, now, I'm erring on the side of information. And I'm watching how when we are science based and merging that with our faith understanding, we can make good decisions for what it means to stay healthy.

CHRISTOPHER CONTI: The word of God in the Bible is very clear and it's not an accident that a lot of what you read, in the New Testament in particular, involves healing. So we've been able to kind of bridge that gap between evidence based science and the information and knowledge contained within the Bible. And we found that that conversation, people have received it well.

BRYANT REED: Dr. Christopher Conti is an emergency medicine physician and the lead pastor at Emmanuel Pittsburgh in Rankin. His wife, Dr. Tracy Conti, is the vice chair of UPMC's Department of Medicine. Together, they've been working to dispel all the rumors and misinformation in the community about the vaccine.

TRACY CONTI: A lot of people are concerned about the speed of the vaccination and how it came out so quickly, or warp speed. But really kind of giving them the education and knowledge that this wasn't warp speed. They've been working on mRNA vaccinations for a long time and it's just that it had extra funding. And that allowed them to speed up the delivery of face to face.

BRYANT REED: And while education is important, it's action that gets things done. Reverend Cheryl Ruffin has not only provided information to her congregants at St. Paul AME Zion, but also has allowed her church to become a COVID-19 testing site. And she's not stopping there.

CHERYL RUFFIN: I'm going to be in conversations to switch from [? ordu ?] in addition to being a testing site. I would love to be a vaccine site to bring that right into the community.

BRYANT REED: Reverend Ruffin is also an equity manager. So she knows a thing or two about fairness. It's one reason she's been pushing the vaccine in her community. So she can make sure vaccine distributors take notice and include communities that are often overlooked.

CHERYL RUFFIN: There's no sense of us having a vaccine out there that people can't get to. And if I can assist in some way to enable individuals within this community to get the vaccine, I certainly want to do it.

BRYANT REED: Bottom line, all four of these community leaders say it's about preaching responsibility and teaching understanding.

WILLIAM CURTIS: By faith, I believe we're one day closer to living on the other side of the season. How fast we get there is determined by how much we believe in our communal effort. That I am my brother my sister's keeper. And I'm responsible not only for my own health, but I'm responsible for attempting to protect yours as well.

BRYANT REED: The good doctors say a lot of folks living in minority communities also live in multigenerational households. That's just another reason why it's so important to get the vaccine. They say that the more people who get vaccinated decreases the likelihood of transmission, which increases the safety of our loved ones. Reporting downtown. I'm Bryant Reed. KDKA news.

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: So information is one thing, but I want to circle back. And Dr. Essien, I hope, Essien, I hope I got that right. I want to circle back because in the story that Royce Jones was reporting earlier, when he was in the barbershop, there was a guy there who said he was interested in the vaccine, but he didn't have health insurance. And if something happened after he got the vaccine, he wouldn't be covered. How common is that?

UTIBE ESSIEN: So, I think it's so critical to bring that point up to remind us that we need to continue to be asking folks, what's your why. And one of my colleagues suggests this, that whether it's in the barbershop, or the salon, or in the church, we have to engage with our community members to ask them specifically about what their reason is for not wanting to get vaccinated.

And I think we live in a country where despite the Affordable Care Act existing, over the last decade plus, we still have 29 million individuals who are uninsured. A high majority of them being people of color. And so that fear that our fellow neighbor had around having access to health care after something might happen after the vaccine is real. And it's so important.

One key thing to think about is that there are few reactions, severe reactions, that happen after those first 15 minutes after, once you've been vaccinated. And that's kind of a guideline from standardly where you get your vaccine shot, you wait for 15 minutes, for those really severe allergic reactions that happen. Afterwards, it's usually something you're able to take care of at home with some Tylenol, with some ibuprofen, et cetera.

But you know, again, I think that that was a really important point to highlight. We have colleagues in federal qualified health centers like Dr. Gloster who can kind of talk about the wraparound services for folks who are uninsured in our communities.

BRYANT REED: And Dr. Gloster, do you want to pick up on that?

JEROME GLOSTER: Sure. Thank you. Yes, exactly. This is our mission and this is the space in which we function. That federally qualified health centers, we are community health centers that are here with regard to anyone. That we treat everyone without regard for their ability to pay. So we have insured patients with private insurance, we have patients with Medicare or Medicaid, and then we have patients with no insurance at all. And we turn no one away. Besides primary care health services, there are several other federally qualified health center organizations throughout the county in which we all partner together to help in all of these communities.

You know, again, I think, as Dr. Essien had said, that the issue around the side effects is one. But what I know we at the Black Equity Coalition are also trying to remind everyone about is that although COVID has brought up a lot of issues that already existed within our communities with the disparities, that we should take this opportunity to not just get a COVID test or not just get a COVID vaccine. But yes, get to the doctor and check on your high blood pressure, your diabetes, or your obesity, or what have you. All these things that have made it more likely for African-Americans to have poor outcomes with this disease. And so, really try to address these things and again, federally qualified health centers, that's what we're here for.

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: I want to try to get in one more question. Thank you, doctor, by the way. Because we talked about side effects and Dr. Kregg-Byers, if we can get this one in, and this is from one of our viewers as well. What are the factors-- what-- I'm sorry. We've heard different accounts from the side effects from COVID-19, of the vaccine. I'd like to know more about specific side effects that seem to be prevalent than others. And I know my dad, he's 95, and he didn't have an immediate reaction, but the next day after getting his second shot, he did. He had chills. He had fever. He had aches and pains. Is that more common in older patients?

CLAUDIA KREGG-BYERS: Well, I wouldn't say it's more common. When we're talking about a new pathophysiological condition, a new pandemic, and new parameters, we can't say, is that usual because we don't know what the usual is. But what I do want to encourage everyone is, you know yourself better than anybody else does. Even your doctor. And so it is your-- I leave it up to you to check yourself to see what you're feeling. That's very important.

Because what you're feeling and then what you communicate to your doctor is exactly what your doctor is going to need. What have you been feeling? Do you have any headaches? Do you have any fatigue? Do you have any muscle aches? How serious is the diarrhea? What are you doing to combat it? As Dr. Essien said, that one of the things that we want to be sure is that people have control over these issues. And we do. So pay attention to what your body is saying to you.

And then when you're not sure, and you're not even giving yourself good answers, consult with your health care professional. The things that people have been talking about, the headaches, the fever. You'll feel swelling under your chin, or under your arms, or in your groin area. Those are all the symptoms that you didn't have before. And because you didn't have them before, that's telling you that something needs to be done. And that's when we're going to ask you, very seriously, to reach out for some additional health consultation.

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: Our next question comes from Ernest Jackson in South Park.

ERNEST JACKSON: My question to the doctor is this: what are the factors that will determine how long that vaccine will protect us from COVID-19?

LYNNE HAYES-FREELAND: And we'll answer that question coming up Ernest.

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