With concern growing that Black Canadians are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine despite being disproportionately more likely than other groups to contract the disease, health care workers knew they had to address their community directly.
And so, on Saturday, 400 people from across the country were able to ask questions directly to experts in a Zoom event co-hosted by the Black Opportunity Fund and BlackNorth Initiative. Both organizations are working to eliminate anti-black racism and systemic barriers that negatively impact Black Canadians.
“There’s a difference between having a politician who does not look like you, tell you to take a vaccine versus when the same message is coming from an individual who looks like you, has similar lived experience and wants to advocate for you,” said Dr. Ato Sekyi-Otu.
Dr. Sekyi-Otu, an orthopedic surgeon and head of the Black Opportunity Fund Healthcare Task Force, said there’s a sense of reassurance that comes with receiving medical advice from someone who shares a similar background.
77 per cent of Black Canadians surveyed by Statistics Canada in September said they were “not very likely to take the vaccine.” That same report also found mortality rates related to COVID-19 amongst racialized women were three times higher than white women.
The national town hall-style event brought together a group of Black Canadian health care professionals to address concerns related to COVID-19 vaccines that are experienced by Black communities across the country.
With participants joining from coast-to-coast, the discussion created awareness around COVID-19 vaccinations and empowered participants to make informed decisions based on their health.
Questions included: who created the vaccine? Will it negatively effect pregnant women or people with severe allergies? What is the vaccine made out of?
“Black communities have had less access to good medical care than white communities for generations,” said Dr. Upton Allen, professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Hospital for Sick Children.
That lack of medical care and other systemic problems has led to COVID-19 disproportionately affecting Black communities.
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In February, at a meeting to support health agencies in predominantly Black communities, Mayor John Tory said that Black people, who represent nine per cent of Toronto’s population, make up 26 per cent of the city’s COVID-19 cases.
“This is a result of long-standing systemic health inequalities related to poverty, racism and lack of access to opportunity, which has been exacerbated by this pandemic,” Tory said last month.
Dr. Allen, who’s also on the board of directors with the BlackNorth Intiative Health Committee, said the combination of distrust of the medical community, along with a large volume of misinformation about COVID-19, contributes to Black people’s reluctance to get the vaccine.
Saturday’s event acted as a safe space for Black Canadians to ask professionals why getting the vaccine might help them stay safe.
Participants were able to submit questions beforehand as well as take part in a live discussion and receive direct answers from health professionals.
Breakout rooms were created for different regions in Canada so participants could have private conversations in smaller groups, asking questions relating to their region.
“We want people to have a space in which they can ask the questions without feeling judged,” Dr. Sekyi-Otu said.
He added that events like this are just the beginning of the journey for reaching more equitable health care for Black Canadians.
“This is not the end. It’s an opportunity to continue the discussion. We want to walk this path with each and every member of the Black community to make sure they’re making the right decision based on the facts and science,” Dr. Sekyi-Otu said.
Breanna Xavier-Carter is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Reach her via email: [email protected]
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