Last year we were all rocked by a deadly new virus. Somewhat like the early days of HIV, we didn't really understand the modes of transmission—we just knew it was potentially deadly. The country went on lockdown, people lost jobs, and many lost their lives. We began hoarding toilet paper, paper towels, and sanitizer. Disinfectant wipes became a hot commodity—masks, gloves, and face shields became the norm. We learned the term "social distancing" and felt its impact as we quickly realized how boring life was without our family and friends. In other words, COVID life sucked.
Zoom became part of our new normal, not just a place to hold meetings, but also for birthday parties, BFF chats, family gatherings, and school for our kids. We followed the arrows pointing the way on the floors of the grocery stores and "mean mugged" anyone going the wrong way. There were no handshakes, hugs, or friendly kisses. No annual HIV conferences or meetings for us to gather, learn, and love on each other. Not a single concert, movie, or sitting in a restaurant. In other words, COVID life sucked.
We went out of our way to stay safe, didn't we? We gave up so much because we were all counting down the days until we could be back in community with each other. While this was happening, Donald Trump decided to politicize mask-wearing. Wearing a mask became for some, an assault on their freedoms, which in turn became an assault on our health. COVID is impacting Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPoC) at higher rates than white people. Holidays came and went, and we could not enjoy them with our families (some people took the chance anyway). In other words, COVID life sucked.
Last summer, the former president began using the phrase Operation Warp Speed to describe the swift distribution of COVID vaccines. WTH? "Warp Speed" means an extremely high speed. Hearing those words from Trump bothered me. Felt like in no time we had not one, but two viable vaccines. I was immediately suspicious. How could they do this so quickly, was my biggest question. I wanted a cure and/or a vaccine, but I wanted it to be safe. I did not trust the administration to do the right thing. So, like a lot of people, I said, "I'm not taking it!" I said this even when I was thinking about how much COVID life sucked.
I would tweet my concerns, fears, and doubts. One of my biggest concerns was about the medications I am prescribed. I am an older woman and my body is going through changes. I am so glad I did. A dear friend, Dr. Oni Blackstock was there to answer my questions. She, along with her twin sister, Dr. Uche' Blackstock were trusted voices in my life. They both made it a priority to educate on the dangers this virus posed for BIPoC. I started thinking about this a little differently, not so much a "hard no" at this point. Then I talked to a trusted friend and colleague and learned that they were in the clinical trial. The Reunion Project hosted a webinar on COVID Vaccine and HIV. The icing on the cake for me was seeing one of my "sons", Dr. David Malbranche, receive his vaccine. Having all these people who I trust and love leading by example opened my eyes. Plus, COVID life sucked.
I think my biggest concern was not knowing what's in the vaccine. But guess what, I don't know what's in aspirin, but I still take it. I've been a participant in HIV clinical trials, remember, I was on 076, the premier study that showed if an expectant mom was on treatment (it was AZT back then) she could deliver a baby who would not seroconvert. After I thought about that part, I also thought about the arrested development of our children. I'm raising my grandson and he needs to be with his peers. He should be in school full time where he can run, play football/basketball/baseball with his friends, and enjoy being a little boy. I then thought about my mom, I have not hugged her since March 1, 2020, her 75th birthday. I miss hugging her. In other words: COVID life sucked.
I realized that this was bigger than me, and I had an obligation to do my part. I put myself on a stand-by list (available since appointment slots were not being filled). I was still concerned, but my mind was made up. On Friday, February 5, 2021 I received my 1st vaccine. I was given Moderna which where a 34-year-old Black doctor named Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett was on the discovery team (had to shout her out). It did not hurt, a little sore the next day, but no adverse reactions. I'm glad I did it cause y'all know, COVID life sucks.
I know how scary this is. Black people experience both medical mistrust and distrust because of the ways we have been treated historically and are still being treated by many providers. We all know about the U.S. Syphilis and Black men study conducted at Tuskegee. We have also read about Dr. Sims and his unethical gynecological experimentation on enslaved women in the book Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. There are many other stories of BIPoC people being treated differently than our white counterparts. Many of us, especially in the BIPoC community, have experienced a medical provider who did not hear a thing we had to say or did not trust us to know what's really going on with our OWN bodies. I understand your feelings because they were my feelings too.
You may want to know, "is the vaccine is safe?" "Was there any PLWH in the clinical trials?" "How about older (over 50-year-old) women being a part of the trials?" Maybe your question is, "how can they get a vaccine so quickly?" We have been dealing with HIV for 35+ years and we don't have a vaccine, why is that? "Will the vaccine have any negative reactions to my HIV meds?" These are all valid questions. What I would say is talk to someone you trust, read about the vaccine, but DO NOT rely on what you read on Facebook without verifying it. Thank you for going on this journey with me and hopefully, soon we will all be able to say, COVID life USED to suck!
This blog entry was written for and cross-posted from Southern AIDS Coalition