By George Gresham
As a child growing up in southern Jim Crow, the grandson of a farm foreman in Virginia, I spent my formative years living in isolation. The racial laws that separated me from my white peers weren’t just evident at water fountains, in the schoolyard, or on the buses – it was also medical apartheid.
I remember one day when I was a young boy going to the doctor for a vaccine, I can’t remember why. But due to the color of my skin, I was not allowed to walk through the hall and enter the examination rooms where white children were taken to be vaccinated.
Years later, I suffered from an acute medical problem in my arm, which required emergency intervention. The doctor who treated me told me that it was the result of an injection with a dirty syringe when I was younger.
The consequences of our country’s long history of medical malpractice towards certain communities are not new. It is something that I have experienced firsthand. So I understand the anxiety, fear and mistrust of many people across our country who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
I don’t despise people for their skepticism or for succumbing to the widespread misinformation circulating online. But I think we need a deeper understanding of Why more people are not getting vaccinated – and what we can do to reverse the trend. It’s not as simple as blaming politics or social media.
I eagerly received my COVID-19 vaccine as soon as I became eligible in February. and I was proud to bring the full weight of our union to the immunization efforts and to partner with some of the country’s leading voices in health care, including Dr. Chris Pernell of Newark University Hospital . Nonetheless, I recognize that my voice as the leader of the country’s largest health union cannot go further. People make individual choices in health care on a very personal level.
Late last year, our union commissioned a survey to assess the views of healthcare workers on a range of issues related to COVID-19 and vaccines. Two points emerged: First, the main concern shared by those who were reluctant to get vaccinated was the fear of side effects. It wasn’t politics, it wasn’t religion, it wasn’t mistrust of the government, it was just being afraid of the side effects. Second, survey respondents indicated that the most trusted source of information on vaccine issues was their personal physician. They weren’t the politicians, or the news thinkers, or the CEOs of their healthcare establishment, but the healthcare professionals with whom they shared a direct and personal relationship.
This underlines an important point. If we are to increase immunization rates, especially among frontline health workers who interact with vulnerable people, it is essential that this workforce has access to health resources for themselves and their own. family.
Unfortunately, this is too often not the case. Thousands of low-wage nursing home workers across the state of New Jersey do not have access to affordable health care. Many simply do not have a relationship with a personal physician who they can talk to and ask about vaccines. In recent months, and despite being in the midst of this pandemic, hundreds of our members in New Jersey have actually lost access to affordable health insurance after their nursing home employer decided to cut it. in order to maximize their profits.
We appreciate the efforts that President Biden and Governor Phil Murphy have made to increase the uptake of immunization in health facilities such as nursing homes, and we share the goal of universal immunization among this workforce. essential work. Yet, as immunization mandates continue to unfold, healthcare employers must be required to provide their employees with access to affordable, quality healthcare so they can make informed decisions about vaccines and other critical health problems.
The least we can do for our health heroes who put themselves at risk to care for our loved ones is to make sure they have access to the health resources they need to keep themselves and all of us safe.
George Gresham is president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the country’s largest healthcare union representing 450,000 caregivers on the East Coast.
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