The delta variant is spreading among children, and vaccination could help stem the tide. Doctors must reach young people, counter misinformation.
Dr. Michael LeNoir
| Opinion contributor
As a pediatrician, what worries me the most about the delta variant is how quickly it’s spreading among children. In the past three weeks, I’ve treated a 2-week-old baby, a 9-week-old baby and a pregnant woman who delivered prematurely because of COVID-19.
This shouldn’t be happening. We have the tools to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the delta variant. Yet too many Americans are not availing themselves of the most important one – vaccination. And vaccination rates are disproportionately low among Black Americans nationwide. Death rates have been disproportionately high for the same group.
I practice in the city of Oakland in California, a state where the push for a vaccine mandate has only recently become a reality. Teachers and health care workers must be vaccinated or face frequent testing.
That city is majority minority – Black and brown communities make up more than 50% of the population; minorities overall are about 70% – and the minority population is suffering. The COVID-19 death rate in Alameda County, where Oakland is located, is highest among Black Americans. County data shows that Black residents have received among the lowest number of vaccinations.
I surveyed the parents of children coming to my office. Though it was informal, it still taught me a great deal about my patients. About 70% of the parents surveyed were not vaccinated. Reasons varied: One young mother thought that the vaccine actually contained the virus and could give her COVID-19 (it does not and cannot). Many parents said they knew someone who had died as a result of getting the vaccine. The details of those deaths are unclear. What is clear is that the vaccine does not cause death. Most of the fathers I talked to stated that they were too healthy to get the virus.
Information in the Black community about COVID-19 often comes person to person, friend to friend and peer to peer. And it’s that misinformation that we must counter.
As a doctor, and particularly as a Black doctor, I see how the messaging around the importance of vaccination gets clouded. But my parents often aren’t watching CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or their local news cast. Younger African Americans are all too frequently depending on social media to make decisions. And vaccinations are lagging among younger people.
What they and all other young people need to know is that without the vaccine, they will get the infection at some point. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.
Another fact that may not be spreading on social media is that 99.5% of the deaths in this country from COVID-19 are occurring in people who are unvaccinated. And we’re also learning about the long-term effects beyond the initial sickness. Those include heart, lung and neurological problems.
People care. They want to understand what they can do to protect their children. They are open to hearing information and acting on it. But that information has to come from a trusted source. They want to know what being vaccinated or unvaccinated means for their family members and friends.
That has also been seen, in my experience, by the response to my state’s mandate. Once it was announced, the pushback and protest have not been as vigorous as people feared. At least not in my city.
Until a mandate is instituted nationwide, doctors, especially Black doctors, need to reach patients where they are. They need to beat back the misinformation with social media information that counts. It’s the only way that pediatricians like me will stop treating newborn babies who have COVID-19.
Michael LeNoir is a pediatrician based in California and the chair of the board of the African American Wellness Project. Join him and other Black doctors Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on Twitter Spaces for a roundtable discussion on COVID-19, vaccination fears and Black America.