Robert Luckey, the first person in the Houston region to get the coronavirus vaccine, is a registered nurse at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and is assigned to the hospital's COVID-19 unit.
He is also Black.
Why does that matter? Because the image of Luckey rolling up the sleeve of his blue scrubs to get the shot may help convince folks in Black and Latino communities that the much-anticipated vaccines are safe.
Experience with a public health system that has often failed and abused people of color has sown a deep mistrust in those communities, even as COVID-19 ravages entire Black and Latino families and leaves others grappling with the economic fallout.
It's encouraging that polls this week show that as the vaccine is rolled out, more Americans are reporting they plan to take it. But there is still much work to do. A Pew Research Center survey in September found that 32% of Black adults would take a vaccine when available, compared with 52% of whites and 56% of Latinos.
There is reason for people of color to be skeptical of a vaccine that has raced through development and trials in record time, but there is also ample reason for folks in those communities to line up when the COVID-19 vaccine is ready for distribution. Black people and Latinos are nearly three times more likely than whites to die of COVID-19.
Public health officials and elected leaders must spend time in communities of color and acknowledge the history fueling the skepticism. They must be transparent about the vaccines: how they were developed, how they work, what possible side effects there may be.
It is not an impossible task. Childhood immunization rates, for example, in Black and Latino communities fall in line with overall rates. The Covid Collaborative survey also showed that Black Americans who believe they have a social responsibility to get vaccinated or who were surrounded by others who planned to get vaccinated were more likely to get one vaccine themselves.
But public health officials and politicians can't just parachute in and expect communities long overlooked, mistreated and subjected to unethical experimentation to jump on board with COVID-19 vaccines. That will take commitment and compassion that should continue long after this crisis has passed.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE