A local senator is stepping up to encourage community members to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and his wife, actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, have joined community messengers and health care experts to launch the #StopTheVirus campaign.
The initiative seeks to drive home the message of people wearing face masks, getting tested for COVID-19 and getting the vaccine.
“We are trying to empower ourselves — trying to empower folks in our community, leaders in our community to communicate the message of stopping the virus,” Hughes said during a virtual press conference Thursday.
“Get a mask and wear it. Get the test and get the vaccine. We are encouraging people to take on this fight to stop the virus. We can win on this thing. We don’t need to lose so many people in sickness.”
“Let’s not let this Black History Month, be the month that Black people become history,” Ralph said. “Let’s take this virus seriously.”
During the press conference, Dr. Delana Wardlaw and Dr. Elana McDonald, who are known as the “Twin Sister Docs” addressed the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“The coronavirus disproportionately affects the African-American community and we have to make sure that we are getting out culturally sensitive messages so that people are aware that this vaccine is safe — they are aware that vaccine processes are tried and true processes,” said Wardlaw, who is a family medicine doctor with Temple Physicians.
She took the opportunity to dispel myths about the vaccine, noting that it does not give people COVID, does not alter one’s DNA and does not affect women’s fertility.
“Some people will still contract COVID even if they have the COVID vaccine, but it’s to make sure that you don’t develop severe complication and/or death if you still contract the virus,” Wardlaw said.
She said they want people to be aware that they can develop side effects after receiving the vaccine including body aches, fever, headaches, lightheadedness and soreness at the vaccine injection site.
“We want people to be aware that those side effects can develop but those side effects are far less significant than complications of coronavirus,” Wardlaw said.
McDonald encouraged community members to talk other medical professionals they know and trust about the vaccination process.
“We want to get to the other side of this pandemic,” she said.
“The vaccine is the next most appropriate step because while we talk about wearing the masks, washing our hands and social distancing, that has not been enough to stop the massive amount of deaths that we’re seeing.”
McDonald acknowledged that some African Americans have a historic distrust of the medical establishment for various reasons including the Tuskegee experiment, the Holmesburg prison experiments and the medical research done on Henrietta Lacks’ cells without her consent.
“Please do not let history allow you to become a statistic today,” said McDonald, a pediatrician who leads Memphis Street Pediatrics.
“African Americans are dying at three times the rate of Caucasians, so we want to change that narrative.”
Andrea Custis, president and CEO of the Urban League of Philadelphia, raised concerns about racial equity in how vaccines are being administered.
She said that while African Americans make up 44% of Philadelphia’s population, they account for only 19% of those who received the COVID-19 vaccine to date, while whites account for 55% of those who have been vaccinated.
“We will continue to analyze this data,” Custis said.
“We will speak up and speak out in Washington, D.C., in Harrisburg and in the city of Philadelphia, because we have to have racial equity as we save the lives of all of our people.”
She noted that Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, has observed that non-minority, non-Philadelphia residents were coming to the organization’s vaccination clinics in poor communities.
“We are now seeing our white counterparts come to the poorest Black communities and they are getting the vaccines,” Custis said.
“We cannot take vaccines from people who look like me, who are dying at a higher rate.”
Rev. James Hall, pastor of Triumph Baptist Church, urged pastors to get vaccinated and encourage their congregations to follow the advice of medical professionals about COVID-19.
“This is killing us,” he said.
“I have preached more funerals in the past nine months than I have in past five years because of this disease. Let’s listen to our doctors. Let’s believe in science and let’s live.”
Lady B has been using her platform as a radio personality on Classix 107.9 to help educate her audience about the importance of taking COVID-19 seriously.
“There are so many people that I talk to on the radio who do not trust medical science and every day I find myself reiterating the same message — trust it, believe in it,” she said.
“What I’ve been trying to do is just lead by example.”
Lady B encourages her audience not to party and not to gather socially.
“It saddens me when I see people still gathering, still inviting me to events [and] still wanting to hang out,” she said.
Dr. Cheryl Bettigole, division director of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said the city’s COVID-19 rates are declining.
“Thanks to the commitment of thousands of Philadelphians to protect each other — by wearing masks, by staying distanced from each other, by getting tested when needed and avoiding gatherings — our COVID-19 rates are falling in Philadelphia,” she said.
“We know that it’s going to take months to vaccinate all of our city’s residents. During this time, it’s critical that those of us who can work from home, continue to do so and that all of us continue to follow COVID precautions.”
Bettigole said residents can register to be vaccinated online using the COVID-19 Vaccine Interest Form at covid-vaccine-interest.phila.gov. People can also call 311 or the department’s COVID Call Center at (215) 685-5488 to sign up.
The city is in Phase 1B of the vaccine distribution. This includes people who are 75 and older or those under 75 who have cancer, organ transplants, chronic kidney disease and diabetes.
The #StopTheVirus campaign comes as the Department of Public Health announced 242 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Philadelphia on Friday. That brings the number of confirmed cases to 111,835.
The department also confirmed 15 additional fatalities in the city, bringing the number of residents who have died from the virus in Philadelphia to 3,056.