Watch our speakers discuss the COVID vaccine and the pandemic's effect on communities of color, while reflecting on Dr. King's message to keep the hope alive.

COVID is real. It is devastating.

This January, University of Maryland Medical System hosted a much-needed discussion about the pandemic, the vaccine and the effect on communities of color in order to offer hope and clarity.

Finding Hope: A Town Hall on Understanding the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Our speakers at this town hall on Dr. Martin Luther King Day informed our community about the harsh effects of this pandemic on our lives and livelihood and addressed questions and concerns about the vaccine, particularly for communities of color.

Finding Hope Town Hall: Questions and Answers

We received many questions from members of our community before and during the town hall. Those questions are answered below. Many people had questions about their personal health conditions and how those issues may affect whether they can get the vaccine. It is important to talk to your doctor about your personal health conditions before you get the vaccine.

Why are Black and African American people unequally impacted by COVID-19?

Black and African American people are almost 1.5 times more likely to get COVID-19. Those who get COVID-19 are nearly 4 times more likely to require hospitalization and nearly 3 times more likely to die.

There are some underlying health issues like heart and lung diseases, obesity, diabetes and hypertension that we know are linked to COVID-19 complications and even death. These health issues also affect Black people at a higher rate. We are also finding out that low vitamin D levels can play a role in how COVID-19 affects you.

There are many systemic health and social inequities that put these groups and other people of color at higher risk of getting COVID-19. Access to health care, education, occupation, income and housing are all factors that put people at increased risk for severe COVID-19 and death.

Why is the Latino community unequally impacted by COVID-19?

Latino and Latina people are almost twice as likely to get COVID-19, and those who are infected are more than 4 times more likely to need hospitalization and nearly 3 times more likely to die.

The chronic health conditions and socioeconomic factors that Black and African American people face are also issues for the Latino community. The language barrier is another issue. It is important to get information to people who do not speak English – whether that's native Spanish speakers or other groups. View our COVID – Español pages.

What other barriers exist in communities that are more impacted by COVID-19?

In addition to issues such as access to health care, education, income and housing, there are really basic communication barriers that we have to overcome. Not everyone has regular access to the internet, email or phone. It is important to get the message out to people in as many ways as possible and address concerns on the ground in our communities.

Discrimination is also an issue. Minorities more likely to receive lower-quality health care compared to their white counterparts. It's important that we are not only aware of these issues but are actively working to overcome them.

If Black and Latino populations are unequally impacted, why aren't they being given the vaccine first?

There are many sensitivities around asking communities of color to be vaccinated first. In no way do we want to give any weight to the incorrect belief that this vaccine is being used to experiment on anyone.

We are working to make sure we distribute the vaccine in the safest and fairest way we can. UMMS is following the State of Maryland's phased vaccine distribution plan to give the vaccine to people. These plans were created to make sure nobody cuts the line. We want the vaccine to be given to people as fairly as possible while supply is limited.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines being used to experiment on people of color?

No, there is no experimentation happening. This is a valid concern, and it is important to recognize why there is mistrust and hesitancy. Black and African American communities have suffered a long history of ethical violations and injustices. These injustices still affect health outcomes in some medical settings to this day.

But again, there is no experimentation happening. The COVID-19 vaccines were studied across diverse and high-risk populations, all of whom bravely volunteered to participate, and the safety and effectiveness have been proven.

Do the COVID-19 vaccines affect demographic groups differently?

All of the vaccines included high-risk populations in Phase 3 clinical trials, which is when we look at safety and how effective the vaccines are in a large group of people.

  • For the Pfizer clinical trials, of more than 37,000 participants, 9 percent were Black or African American, 28 percent were Hispanic/Latinx and 21 percent had at least one underlying conditions (for example, diabetes or obesity).
  • For the Moderna clinical trials, of more than 30,000 participants, 10 percent were Black/African American, 20 percent were Hispanic/Latinx, American and 25 percent were 65 or older. The vaccines were proven to be safe and effective for everyone.
  • For Johnson & Johnson (J&J), of the 44,325 participants, 19.4% were Black/African American, 45.3 percent were Hispanic/Latino, 9.5 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.2 percent were Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and 5.6 percent were multiracial.

While COVID-19 impacts different groups disproportionately, there was no difference in how effective the vaccines are across different demographics.

More COVID-19 Vaccine Questions

How do the current COVID-19 vaccines work?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are messenger RNA – or mRNA – vaccines, while the J&J vaccine is a viral vector vaccine.

While they use different technology, all three vaccines do the same thing. They tell our cells to make what is called "spike protein" that causes an immune response in our bodies. In response, our cells start to build an immune defense by making antibodies. After that is done, our immune system knows how to protect against future infection without ever getting sick with COVID-19, and the vaccines are then quickly broken down by our bodies.

Read about how vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, that use mRNA technology work.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Yes. Read about how the vaccines were tested and why they are safe.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccines?

No, this is a myth; you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines. Learn about other common myths and facts about the COVID vaccine.

How effective are the COVID-19 vaccines?

The J&J, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death.

Why is there more than one vaccine? Are there any differences between them? Will I be able to choose which vaccine I get?

You will not be able to choose which vaccine you get. Read these vaccine comparisons to learn more details about the different vaccines. The most important thing is to get the vaccine when it is your turn.

What can I do to protect myself from COVID-19 while I wait to get the vaccine?

Learn more about the ways you can protect yourself and others from the virus.

How do I know when it is my turn to get the vaccine?

The State of Maryland is distributing the vaccine in phases. This plan was designed to be as fair as possible. Read more to find out who is eligible now to get the vaccine.

Where do I go to get my vaccine? How will I schedule my second shot?

Learn more about how to get the COVID-19 vaccine from UMMS and other locations.

How much does the vaccine cost?

COVID-19 vaccines are free, whether you have insurance or not.

Do the COVID-19 vaccines protect against new strains of the virus?

The simple answer is yes. How (and how well) they work against new strains requires a more complex explanation. Learn more about the vaccines and new virus strains.

Is there anyone who cannot get the vaccine?

  • You should not get the vaccine if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine.
  • You should not get the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine if you have had a severe allergic reaction to the first shot of either vaccine.
  • Please see the vaccine profiles for the J&J, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for details or to access their FDA fact sheets.

Should people who have a history of severe allergic reactions get the vaccine?

There is a very small chance that the vaccines could cause a severe allergic reaction. If you have had a severe allergic reaction to another vaccine or injectable therapy in the past, you should talk to your doctor before you get the vaccine. Find out more about what you should know before you get the vaccine.

Can pregnant or breastfeeding women get the vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or plan to get pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before getting the vaccine. The initial safety trials for the vaccines did not include pregnant women.

For this reason, there is no information on how the vaccine affects an unborn baby. Clinical trials to study the safety and effectiveness of all COVID-19 vaccines in individuals who are pregnant are planned or underway.

For people receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, safety data on the effects of mRNA vaccines on the breastfed infant or milk production is not available yet. However, these are not thought to be a risk to the breastfed infant. Similarly, for individuals receiving the J& J vaccine, there were no concerns identified in the initial studies conducted.

We do know that the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the COVID-19 virus, and experts do not think the vaccines are a risk to infants who are breastfed.

Should I get the vaccine if I am taking another medication like blood thinners or medicine to treat a heart condition? Can I still get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have had another vaccine recently or if I have had another treatment for COVID-19?

Find out more about what you should know before you get the vaccine.

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

Side effects are a sign that the vaccine is working. They are not uncommon. Most side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are minor, like pain at the site of the shot. Other mild side effects could include fever, headache, chills and feeling tired. Side effects should go away within 24-48 hours.

And if you don't have any side effects, that doesn't mean the vaccine isn't working. Not everyone will have side effects.

How are vaccine side effects different from COVID-19 symptoms?

Vaccine side effects are nothing like what you might experience if you get COVID-19. COVID-19 symptoms include things like new loss of taste and smell, difficulty breathing, cough, fever, congestion or runny nose, diarrhea and nausea or vomiting. Remember, you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines.

Do I need to get the COVID-19 vaccine every year?

Right now, we do not know how long the COVID-19 vaccines protect you. We do not yet know whether you will need to get the vaccine every year.

Do I need to get both doses of the vaccine?

If you are getting a two-dose vaccine, it's very important to get both doses of the vaccine to be fully protected. You are fully protected two weeks after your second shot. Your first and second shot have to be the same vaccine. You cannot get a different vaccine once you get your first shot. If you get a one-dose vaccine, you will not need a second shot. You are fully protected 28 days after your shot.

If I have had COVID-19, can I still get the vaccine?

If you have had COVID-19, you can still get the vaccine. We don't know how long the antibodies from a COVID-19 infection will protect you. The CDC says people who have had COVID-19 within the last 90 days may choose to wait to get vaccinated. This is so people who are more vulnerable can get the vaccine first.

What if I get COVID-19 between my first and second shots?

You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines. For those who received a two-dose vaccine, if you get infected with COVID-19 between your first and second shots, you may choose to delay the second shot for 90 days. But you need to make sure you get the second shot after the 90 days is over. You should not get your shot if you were diagnosed with COVID-19 within 10 days of your appointment. This is important so you do not give COVID-19 to others.

I'm thinking about waiting to get the vaccine. Why should I get the vaccine now instead of waiting?

The vaccine is the most important tool we have to fight the pandemic. If we want the pandemic to end, it is important for everyone to get the vaccine. For communities of color who are more likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19, it is especially important to get the vaccine.

After I get the vaccine, do I still need to wear a mask?

Even after getting the vaccine, it will still be important for everyone to wear masks, practice social distancing and stay away from gatherings. This is because people who have gotten the vaccine may still be able to spread COVID-19 to others. You should get the vaccine to protect yourself from COVID-19. After you get the vaccine, you should continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing to protect others from getting COVID-19.

Updated 3/24/2021


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"Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment" - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.