April 5, 2024
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This Black History Month, let’s reflect on how far we have come

IN THIS ARTICLE

By Jerry Abraham

Since the COVID-19 vaccines were made available to Californians, we have worked hard to communicate the importance of everyone eligible getting vaccinated and boosted. A large part of this effort was eliminating the barriers that prevented our black and brown communities from equitable access to vaccines.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed health and healthcare disparities to the forefront. Its disproportionate impact on our communities — in the form of low vaccination rates, hospitalizations, and deaths — has propelled the issues of health inequity and racism to news headlines and national conversations. The pandemic gave us a lens to address the importance of focusing on health equity and bringing resources, vaccines and boosters to our communities.

This Black History Month, we celebrate our diverse culture and the accomplishments of Black and African American trailblazers with this year’s national theme, “Black Resistance.” Health inequities rooted in racism and discrimination are a well-documented part of our history. This year’s national theme should remind each of us to be an advocate and continue to fight for freedom, justice, and liberty for all.

Addressing these types of healthcare disparities is essential as they are a part of our history and directly shape the way our communities receive or do not receive healthcare. Improvements have been made, but disparities persist. More than 50 years later, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane,” remain accurate and relevant.

Early on, the California Department of Public Health recognized the importance of partnering with Black and African American medical experts like myself to address our community’s concerns and amplify the information we needed to understand what we were facing the pandemic.

Together, we have conducted outreach to our communities, providing ongoing access to COVID-19 updates, critical information, resources, town halls, webinars and community conversations and worked towards dispelling myths and misinformation about the vaccines and boosters.

These outreach efforts included two key campaigns designed to engage our communities – Shot of Faith and the Beauty & Barbershop Health Initiative. Shot of Faith partnered with churches throughout the state to execute educational town halls and vaccine and boosters clinics. During the church town halls, doctors provided updates and spent time answering COVID-19 questions from congregations. The Beauty & Barbershop initiative helped raise awareness of the importance of practicing measures that could keep communities safer and getting vaccinated and boosted to fight COVID-19 through engaging consumers one-on-one with information, conversations and clinics.

Partnerships like these are intentional steps that help make an impact as we continue to face a health care system that often disregards our needs, and to address systemic racism that has morphed into a public health crisis. Through all of these challenges, Black and African Americans have persisted.

As we celebrate Black History Month, I encourage you to remember our past, reflect on our achievements and be encouraged by our gains, while continuing to prioritize working towards equitable healthcare for our generations to come.

This includes protecting ourselves and communities from COVID-19 with the tools we have – getting vaccinated and boosted, staying home if you’re sick, washing your hands, testing if you believe you’ve been infected and seeking treatment immediately if you test positive.

We have come a long way and have more work to do. I have no doubt that together, we can achieve great things including health equity for all.

To schedule an appointment for a vaccination or a booster, visit MyTurn.ca.gov.

Dr. Jerry Abraham is the director of Kedren Vaccines in South Los Angeles and serves as the Assistant Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles Academy of Family Physicians, Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Medical Association, Trustee of the California Medical Association, and Councilor on Constitution & Bylaws for our American Medical Association.