With patience, science, and the Black church, and ID doc overcomes hesitancy.
Katrina Byrd F’22, MD, has spent much of her four-year adult and pediatric infectious diseases fellowship caring for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a disproportionate number of whom have identified as Black or Latinx.
Vaccine hesitancy then amplified this disparity. Byrd listened as people of color expressed distrust in the health care system and the government. They told her their concerns about the rapidity of the vaccine’s development and doubts about its necessity and safety. “It’s OK to be hesitant about the vaccine. … We have to allow people the time and the space to come around,” Byrd says. “When people say, ‘I don’t want to take the vaccine. I’m nervous about it,’ especially Black, African American people, I 100 percent get it—I was them.”
But after Byrd learned the science underlying the vaccines, she began to share that information. “My message has always been, I don’t want you to feel coerced or pressured to get the vaccine. At the end of the day, it’s your choice. But … I want you to make that choice from an informed place,” she says. Byrd posted videos on Instagram, spoke on radio shows, and answered questions on social media and Zoom. She partnered with organizations in and beyond Rhode Island, including Black churches, to hold virtual information sessions.
“The Black church is a really good way to get information out to Black people,” she says. “It’s so deeply entrenched in our culture and how we communicate.” She also helped coordinate the state Department of Health’s vaccine clinics for people of color. “Dr. Byrd really soared with that,” says Rev. Howard M. Jenkins Jr., pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Providence and president of the Rhode Island Ministers Alliance. “She was able to really bring together doctors and medical students to vaccinate and also to be clinicians in regards to explaining the vaccination.” Byrd is pleased with what she’s achieved so far. “Almost everybody who told me they weren’t getting the vaccine is vaccinated,” she says.