Good Health WINs
Feb 10, 2021
Today, Vaccinate Your Family (VYF) and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) launched a new collaboration to help African American and Latinx communities thrive through good health. This new program called Good Health WINs (Women’s Immunization Networks) pairs NCNW’s unparalleled network of 2 million American women and men of African descent with VYF’s deep knowledge of vaccines and immunization policy. Together, we will work with additional partners to ensure all communities have access to accurate vaccination information, in addition to vaccines.
Our work will encompass all immunizations across the lifespan but must begin with COVID-19 vaccines. According to a recent Pew survey, 8 in 10 Asian Americans and 6 in 10 Latinx and white Americans intend to accept a COVID-19 vaccine. Only 4 in 10 African Americans expressed a willingness to be vaccinated. Sadly, no one has been surveying tribal nations, who have suffered much higher losses from coronavirus than any other racial or ethnic group in our country. They are 5.3 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than white people in the U.S.
This devastation is not due to genetics, but to the disproportionate impact of chronic diseases on communities of color. COVID-19 has been catastrophic for people living with chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease, COPD, and Type 2 diabetes. Contrary to some popular beliefs, chronic conditions are not a lifestyle choice. For millions of Americans, particularly African Americans and indigenous people, discriminatory housing policies purposely make it harder for them to live in areas with high-quality schools and ample access to healthy foods. Systemic racism extends into the medical field where misperceptions about nonexistent racial physiological differences are still left uncorrected. For example, half of white medical students still believe black skin is thicker or have fewer nerve endings than white skin.
Add to this the centuries of medical experimentation on African Americans without those persons’ knowledge or consent that goes far beyond the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study. It’s not hard to understand why African Americans are hesitant to get a vaccine that has not yet been widely used.
Since Vaccinate Your Family’s first foray into social media in 2007 when we created a Facebook page, we have seen the growing influence of anti-vaccine messaging in African American communities. In more recent years — using words such as “choice” and “informed consent” — many anti-vaccine organizations try to unfairly tie modern vaccination to past medical atrocities, with the hopes of deepening the distrust between African Americans and the medical community.
This issue came to a head once before — in 2017 with an outbreak of measles in a Somali-American community. Families there stopped vaccinating their children against measles after being targeted and misled by an anti-vaccine activist. While the condemnation of the anti-vaccine activists was swift, there was little action at a national level to work with communities to change perceptions about vaccines.
It will take years, if not decades, to change perceptions of the government and medical community and build trust that has yet to be fully earned across all populations. That is why Good Health WINs is not just about community education and access, but also about bridging the gap between underserved communities and vaccine leaders and policy makers. We will use our own seats at the table and understanding of the vaccine policy space to ensure systemic change to eliminate vaccine disparities.
Vaccinate Your Family’s cofounders, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and former First Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers, understood the power of women’s networks. In order to tackle the enormous challenge of ensuring timely vaccination of children throughout every corner of our nation, they created immunization coalitions, comprising primarily of female volunteers, nurses, and community service organizations. Much has changed over the past three decades, but one thing has remained steadfast: women continue to be the stewards of good health for their families. Good Health WINs will activate those very networks to create a new future for families to live in good health.
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