The majority of Cedar Shoals high school students are not vaccinated against COVID-19. In Clarke County, 78.8% of 12-19 -year-olds are not vaccinated.
Junior Zaraviah Wise lacks trust in the American government and healthcare system as a reason for her pointed skepticism of the vaccine.
“I feel like COVID is man-made, like Donald Trump knew about it the whole time. I feel like there are too many people in the population. So he tried to kill some people off, but it didn’t work well enough. It only really killed people with weak immune systems who were old. So what if the vaccine is programmed specifically for colored people to like, become slaves again? And we don’t even know it because we have a vaccine,” Wise said.
Dr. Paula Davis-Olwell, a University of Georgia professor who works with the Global Health Institute, attributes distrust like Wise’s to generational trauma from the United States government’s history of oppression and medical racism: the stereotyping and bias within healthcare that results in abusive and poor medical treatment for people of color and other marginalized groups.
“We’re seeing places where there were unethical research studies and treatments offered that were not proven, but they were offered in communities of color in the U.S.. We can map where some of those communities are,” Davis-Olwell said. “Those are exactly the places where people don’t trust the medical system and may not comply in a situation like we’re in right now.”
One of the most famous unethical research studies was the Tuskegee trials that took place in Alabama. 600 Black men participated in a trial where they were told that they were being treated when really they were injected with toxic substances like mercury. Traumas like this can be passed down from generation to generation. In fact, Wise’s fear is not uncommon.
“I’ve noticed that they’re trying to convince people of a minority to get it more than everybody else. I sort of see where she’s coming from. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are trying to enslave minorities,” junior Perla Garfias-Solorzano said.
Politicians and healthcare workers may actually be trying to convince minorities to receive the vaccine because they are at a higher risk, says Davis-Olwell.
“If you look at things like rates of asthma in children, that’s higher in African-Americans than other groups in the U.S., so, we’re seeing the risk of living in a poor neighborhood. Being of lower socioeconomic status, the kind of work that you have, the job that you are in, means that you’re less able to protect yourself from COVID-19. Being obese or overweight, having another chronic disease, kidney disease or heart disease makes you more at risk to have a more serious COVID experience,” Davis-Olwell said.
Sandy Broyles, a registered nurse and a community health educator at Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital, says that everyone should get the vaccine because it provides protection against COVID-19 and will lessen the chances of contracting the delta variant. She believes that the rumors and misinformation that have been circulating could be due to the increased use of social media.
“There’s so much information at our fingertips, and not good information, unfortunately. So many people are getting exposed to the myths and the untruths about COVID and about the vaccine, it’s difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. In the 1960s, there was no internet, there was no social media. If you had a question about a vaccine, you had to ask your doctor,” Broyles said. “There’s just such a lot of information and a lot of it is misinformation.”
Garfias-Solorzano says that she wanted to get the vaccine, but her parents had fears that it might make her and her brother sick.
“I was planning on getting it but my mother said no because she was worried about all the rumors going on. And now there are people posting updates about the vaccine, and there was one where many people who had gotten the vaccine were severely sick and were hospitalized,” Garfias-Solorzano said. “So let’s say I got the vaccine, I could most likely miss a lot of days of school until I feel better and everything.”
Junior Kalann Witherspoon is also worried about becoming temporarily sick after receiving the vaccine but believes it is an important component to resuming in-person school and normal life, regardless of one’s concerns.
“It all comes down to ignorance, it’s killing people. Why wouldn’t you want the cure? I want the cure, but I don’t want to go through the fact that you have to get sick to get the cure. But you’ve got to toughen up,” Witherspoon said.
There are generally minimal symptoms reported by most who receive the vaccine. Minor symptoms are normal and indicate that one’s immune system is responding effectively. Getting severely sick after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine is very rare.
“There are some common minor side effects that a lot of people experience for two or three days sometimes after getting the vaccine. Those are generally part of your immune system response to the vaccine. It’s like your body is gearing up to be able to find that virus if it sees it again. Like a sore arm, maybe muscle aches, tiredness, maybe a little bit of fever, headache, those sort of things, and they’re generally gone after two or three days,” Broyles said.
Broyles says one of the most important aspects of her job is to listen to fears and discomforts and show that she and the medical teams are there to help rather than harm.
“We are respectful of people’s fears and their opinion and try to address those without turning it into something that’s an us against them situation because this really isn’t. It is all of us against the virus,” Broyles said. “There are people who are afraid, and we need to listen to all of those people to find out how we can help if we can.”
Davis-Olwell emphasizes that in order for us to move forward we need to address these rumors and that the U.S has to address the unjust trials and treatments of minorities in the medical field.
“I think the more that we come clean about the fact that those things happened, it will help to change people’s minds,” Davis-Olwell said.
She also suggests that people share their experiences and help others know that it’s safe.
“I’ve seen some programs where other community leaders are sharing information about the vaccine. A trusted community member like an activist, organizer, minister, or physician that people do trust can give that information and maybe answer questions. I think you need to try to empathize with the person that you’re talking to and explain it in a way that they can understand,” Davis-Olwell said.
Hilsman Health Center office specialist LaToya Hopkins encourages skeptics to visit to learn reliable information about the vaccine. Hopkins says that she too was a skeptic, who had fears that the COVID-19 vaccine would make her sick until she talked to the Nurse Practitioner at the Health Center, Tionya Lawrence.
“We have printed out documents of how safe it is, what it can do, and why you need to get it. (The nurse practitioner at Hilsman Health Center) will print out a pamphlet and she will actually sit with (visitors) one on one. She sat with me and my spouse and gave us a counseling session, because we were like, ‘No, I’m not gonna do it. I heard it does all this.’ And none of that happened. We have been safe,” Hopkins said.