Category: The Conversation

Does the COVID vaccine research reflect the needs of communities of color?

“The NIH set up five different panels of scientists based on they have an African American, they have a Latinx, they have one that deals with geriatric patients, and the Veterans Administration patients and then other Indigenous groups.

And they set that up so that we would be able to see the phase one and the phase two data that led to the phase three trial. And also in developing the phase three trial we got to see the consent forms, we got to see all of the information that informed the science, but also would be shared to the volunteers.

Would they have this information in a platform or in a culturally linguistically manner, that they would be able to understand it? And not just about the effectiveness of the vaccine, but the safety. And so, I participated in multiple zoom call meetings, looking at that data for the vaccine candidates which was really important to my comfort level.”

Can pregnant women get the COVID vaccine?

“From all the data and information that we have, we know that it’s a safe vaccine, and we know that women who are pregnant are at increased risk for poor outcomes from a COVID infection. And so, I definitely offer the vaccine to pregnant women and am very confident that it is something that is safe to take during pregnancy.”

What to expect after you get a COVID vaccine?

“Typically, when I’m going to give the COVID vaccine, I’ll let them know when you’re going to get the first dose of the COVID vaccine you might feel your arm very sore. It’s like somebody punched you in the arm, and that’s that type of a soreness. If you’ve ever gotten a tetanus shot, it feels like a tetanus shot. Your arm is sore probably for the rest of the day, but again, keep moving it around. Do everything that you normally do, because it’ll be like a sore muscle. You still want to be able to move it and get that vaccine going. You want the medication to be able to absorb and disseminate. So, it’s good for you to continue to move that arm around. If you start to feel achy, like minor body aches, if you notice that you have a fever, you can take some Tylenol, if you’d like. If you notice that you have a fever, if you have minor body aches, rest, drink plenty of fluids.

When you get the second dose, that’s typically when you tend to have some or more of the signs and symptoms of the side effects like the body aches, the headache, you might have a fever. Maybe, maybe not. Again, everybody’s very different. And the way your body reacts to medication is very differently. For me personally, it was the second dose where I had the body aches, but I was still able to work. I did the 12-hour shift, and I had no problem being able to do that. And I didn’t have to take anything. But again, we all feel differently. Our bodies are different, and we react differently. So, it just depends your comfort level. For me, I didn’t need to use anything, but if you need to, you can take Tylenol.”

What to know about COVID vaccines & new variants?

“I know it sounds very scary, but first you have to understand how viruses work. Viruses in order to infect a person and make them sick, the viruses have to copy themselves. And when the viruses make copies of themselves, they make mistakes. And that’s all a mutation is it’s a mistake when the virus copies itself. Viruses do what viruses do, and that is to sort of replicate. And as part of that replication process, it doesn’t always do it perfectly. You know, viruses want to survive. So by any means necessary, they’re going to work to do that. So what we need to be concerned about is when they make mistakes, when they’re being copied, are they making a mistake that will affect the performance of the vaccine. I think it’s really important that our communities understand that we’re expecting to see some variants pop up and that the variants that we’re seeing are being actively tested against the vaccines as they come out. And what we know right now, even from studies, especially in the Johnson and Johnson study that tested the vaccine against these variants or these mutations, even with the mutations present it has been shown to prevent death and keep people out of the hospital. All of the vaccines that are currently under emergency use authorization would work really well to protect people from getting seriously sick and ending up in the hospital and potentially dying. This is a new emerging situation for all of us. And so we’re constantly learning new things as we move along. So as long as coronavirus is out in the community and it’s copying itself, it can be mutating, but this is the reason people need to get vaccinated. So that we can stop the spread of coronavirus and end the pandemic. It’s really important that our communities are vaccinated as soon as possible to slow down the spread of the virus and to avert the opportunity for other variants of the virus to appear. The greater race is to avert additional hospitalizations and deaths.”

If you can still get COVID, why get vaccinated?

“It’s hard to then for people to understand the idea that a vaccine wouldn’t protect you 100 percent. Although honestly, the flu vaccine also doesn’t protect you 100 percent, you know? But the people that were vaccinated in the clinical trials, even if they got symptomatic COVID were not admitted to the hospital, were not admitted to the ICU and did not die from COVID. So, you might get mild COVID, but if you can be almost guaranteed not getting admitted to the hospital, being in the ICU or dying from COVID, it’s worth it.”

How do we know the COVID vaccines are safe?

“We in this country are really privileged to have a very good, very robust system, that looks at vaccine safety. So, before any vaccine goes on the market there’s been months of tests to make sure that it is safe. Those months before vaccine goes on the market are meant to find common side effects that could be serious. And based on those results, we say, “Yes” or we say “No.” After a vaccine is approved it doesn’t mean we stop looking, right? We keep looking. And when we give it to a lot of people, millions and millions and millions of people, then we’re going to find the potential one-in-a-million side effect that could happen. When that happens, the right thing to do is to stop and say, “What happened here?” So, everyone knows how to treat this if they see it. And so, we don’t lose lives. And so, we don’t lose hope, and we don’t lose our faith in the safety of vaccines.”

How did we get a COVID vaccine so fast?

“The vaccine development did happen quickly. Often times the vaccines take years to develop, and this one happened in a much-condensed timeframe with scientists sharing information in real time across the globe, all laser-focused on the same exact problem. I think one of the things that’s been unique is so many people coming together and partnering in new ways. And I think doing things that previously we said, “Couldn’t be done.” Another important part of course, is the money. The government essentially removed the risk for the vaccine company so that they could do several of their processes’ steps simultaneously instead of consecutively. And so that meant a much-expedited process but with respect to the clinical trials process that actually was more robust than even was required in terms of the number of people within those studies. The fact that they included people of all different races and ethnicities, which actually they did a better job than usual in including different races, ethnicities, genders, age groups. They specifically included elders as well as people with different comorbid conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. And so, they really did a very robust and large clinical trials to establish the safety and the effectiveness and that part of the process is no different than any other vaccine process.”

Do I need to get vaccinated if I had COVID?

“I’ve heard people say, “Well, I have had COVID so I’ve been exposed. Therefore, my immune system is producing the proteins or antibodies. So I should be good, right?” And we’re even telling the people that have been exposed to get vaccinated because we don’t know how long that natural immunity, that production of natural antibodies when you get exposed to it will actually last. We don’t know if it’s three months, six months, a year.”

How much do we know about mRNA?


“I have been doing clinical and basic science research for most of my career. I am a clinician-scientist. I started the Center for Women’s Health Research at Meharry, which was the first center that looked at diseases that disproportionately impacted women of color almost 15 or so years ago. So, I’ve been involved in research for a long period of time. So, one of the things that I knew is that the mRNA—the messenger RNA technology—has been in development for the last 12 years. So even though you hear this thing about warp speed, believe me, that did not warp speed. It just happened to be at a time, at a point in time, where it was ready for prime time. And, so, looking for a candidate vaccine to actually showcase this technology. So, I was very comfortable with that.”

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