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Medical director talks race and COVID-19 vaccines

SVSU’s Courageous Conversations series hosted Dr. Delecia Pruitt on Feb. 9.

Pruitt is an American Academy of Family Physicians fellow with a BS in biology from U of M Ann Arbor, a master’s of public health from CMU and a medical doctorate from Wayne State.

Pruitt currently serves as the medical director at the Saginaw County Health Department, as well as serving on the Project Michigan Commission and the Food Insecurity Council.

She joined SVSU’s Vanessa Brooks Herd, associate professor of social work and Diversity Programs fellow, and Avaretta Lewis, professor of nursing on Zoom to discuss the connections between race and COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

People 60 years or older, minority populations and people with preexisting conditions have a slightly heightened risk, she said. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected African American and Hispanic communities.

“Black patients were more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than white patients with similar underlying health conditions,” she said. “We know that Black people are dying more often from COVID and had higher cases than their percentage of the population at most times.”

Pruitt linked this to social determinates, specifically neighborhoods.

“We have to look at … the fiscal environment, housing, occupations, education, economic stability, discrimination and access to care,” she said. “Racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to live in areas with high rates of COVID-19 infections.”

The U.S. currently has access to two vaccines, both of which are safe and 95 percent effective, Pruitt said.

Each vaccine has two doses and uses mRNA printing to train the body to recognize COVID-19 proteins.

“We don’t know how long immunity lasts after receiving the vaccine,” she said. “We know that natural immunity … lasts about nine days. We don’t know whether you get the vaccine annually or once every two years. We don’t know if the vaccine covers all variants of COVID-19.”

About 70 percent of the population would have to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity, she said.

However, only about 25 percent of African Americans and 20 percent of Hispanic Americans intend to get vaccinated, Pruitt said. People aged 60 and older are more likely to get vaccinated than younger people.

She said many people fear the vaccine was created too quickly, but coronavirus vaccines were in progress as early as 2003.

“(The scientists) didn’t have to start from scratch,” she said. “It wasn’t made too rapidly. Some of the steps were already done.”

To combat myths, Pruitt recommended getting information only from credible sites like health departments and the CDC.

“We want everyone to have a vaccine,” she said. “We have very few vaccines here in Saginaw County, so we’re doing our very best to take a scarce resource and spread it out as much as possible. Slowly but surely, everyone’s being integrated in.”

Although vaccines are limited, Pruitt recommended getting on the waiting list at pharmacies and health departments.

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