The COVID-19 vaccine can help us all get back to the life we miss so much, but we have to do this together. That’s why the American Heart Association teamed up with other local organizations to help address vaccine hesitancy in Black and Brown Central New Yorkers.
The Association’s Syracuse Chapter was recently recognized by the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Kappa Xi Zeta Chapter with the 2021 Community Service Award for a series of webinars about the COVID-19 vaccine, along with the larger “Loving Myself, Loving My Sisters” collaboration that began in 2014.
Thanks to the pandemic, the “Loving Myself, Loving My Sisters” series had gone dormant in 2020. As vaccines were beginning to roll out, leaders from the coalition decided to hold virtual events focused on vaccine hesitancy. The series of webinars featured Black women who had received the vaccine, COVID-19 survivors, nurses and other local health leaders. The webinars were free and open to anyone via Zoom and streamed live on Facebook through UrbanTsyr.
“I hope the webinar series first continues to inform the public with accurate information on COVID-19 and the vaccine,” said LaToya Jones BS, HSA, LPN, one of the three co-chairs of the CNY Regional Healthcare Equity Task Force, representative from the HealthCare Education Project, and new board member for the American Heart Association. “The sharing of personal stories and experiences by panelists has a heartfelt impact to allow the community to make a good choice on deciding if they will get vaccinated.”
The “Loving Myself, Loving My Sisters” series is a collaboration between the local Association and more than a dozen organizations. The coalition focuses on programming and education for the area’s Black and Brown residents. Events often include physical activities, family games, healthy nutrition, and lifesaving information.
“Knowledge is power. We hope the series helped support and augment the community-wide efforts to promote the vaccine, dispel myths about the vaccine, and encourage participants to not just get vaccinated, but to recruit others to get vaccinated as well,” said Franklin Fry, executive director of the American Heart Association in Syracuse. “We are honored to not just be recognized, but to work together to ensure all of those in our community can have longer and healthier lives.”
The discussions varied from personal stories to science lessons. Panelists shared their own experiences, discussed COVID-19 and its impact on the community, and their knowledge of the science behind the vaccines.
“For the attendees, I think one of the “A ha!” moments was hearing from one of our doctors about how both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are made using synthetic messenger RNA. The explanation set up an interesting dialogue,” said Jones.
“On the third call, Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens shared her personal story of having had COVID-19,” said Fry. “Then [she] bluntly and directly called upon webinar participants to send out the message for people with doubts about COVID-19 and the vaccine to seek out answers and information from trusted and scientific sources. Find the Facts!”
Even as vaccine rates increase across Central New York, the work of the American Heart Association and the “Loving Myself, Loving My Sisters” organizations is never done.
“I hope the webinar series opens community conversation around the healthcare disparities that have made Black & Brown people more likely to catch viruses such as COVID-19,” said Jones. “I understand that social determinants of health have a major impact on the health of our community members and daily living. I want to continue to break down those barriers that are in the way for our community to be healthy.”