NEW ORLEANS— In the spring of 2020, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards initiated a group of medical professionals to fix an alarming problem. At that time, while African Americans were only around 33 percent of the Louisiana population, they made up around 70 percent of coronavirus deaths because of preexisting medical conditions, coupled with a large portion of the black population being employed at high risk jobs.
It is now 2021 and Dr. Takeisha Davis, the President and Chief Executive Officer of New Orleans East Hospital, says while the country is experiencing is third wave of the virus, the mission of the task force is the same: to promote accurate information to the public and underserved communities, to arm hospitals with the tools they need to help, and lastly, to make sure the vaccine is distributed fairly.
“We have developed a website on social media platforms, both on Instagram and Facebook, to provide accurate information. We’ve had webinars from healthcare communities across the state and our next one will be in about two to three weeks. We have been collecting data through scientific studies and reaching out through grass roots methods,” says Dr. Davis.
Dr. Davis vividly remembers las March and says the hospitals in New Orleans are better equipped with information. However, medical professionals are fighting a coronavirus-fatigued public. There is now a vaccine available, but there is a shortage and most alarming is a deep-seated wariness of vaccinations in African American culture.
Dr. Davis is a medical professional of color that went to medical school because of a desire to help those that helped her, when she almost lost her life as a teenager in New Orleans East. She says, there is a long history of the needs of minorities being ignored and abused, saying “the medical establishment has historically, racially discriminated against the African American community. Many of us think back to the 1930’s Tuskegee experiment, when African American men were told they were being treated for syphilis, when they were not. Then in 1951, the cells of Henrietta Lacks were used to create life saving treatments, without ever telling her or her family. We can also look at present day examples of how African Americans are treated. Vaccine hesitancy has been earned by the African American community.”
The task force hopes to be a counterbalance of false information that is spread mostly, through social media and word of mouth. Dr. Davis says what’s most important in making a personal decision about one’s health is the accuracy and original source of the facts.
“In New Orleans East Hospital, like in other primarily minority communities, we are disproportionately affected. It is both difficult and motivating seeing people who look like me suffering. I want to help them. Our goal now is, how do we make sure that distribution of a scare resource, like vaccine is distributed through an equity lens? Those most impacted should be first on the list to get the vaccine and the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force wants to make sure they have the opportunity.