By Stacy M. Brown,
NNPA Newswire Correspondent,
Like most of the world, Dr. Rochelle Walenksy, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, watched with nervous anticipation the jury verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin.
And, like many others, Dr. Walensky was relieved with the guilty verdicts that brought a measure of justice to the family of George Floyd and, by extension, African Americans and people of color everywhere.
“I was on a Zoom in my office with Dr. [Anthony] Fauci when the verdicts came in,” Dr. Walensky recalled during a special live interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) “Let It Be Known” breaking news program.
“We were all relieved,” Dr. Walensky assured. “This is just a single moment. What we face as a nation is generations of racism and discrimination and barriers for black people. We can’t erase 400 years in one single verdict, but this is one huge step forward, and we have to make many more huge steps forward.”
During the 30-minute interview, Dr. Walensky said the CDC is taking more steps to shift from looking at just markers of health and equity to looking at the drivers of health and equity.
“They are inextricably linked with race and require us to evaluate the structural barriers that exist for so many black Americans, so many Latino Americans and Native Americans,” Dr. Walenksy offered.
“So, our work as a nation must be to address these drivers to make everyone safer and to make our streets safer and education more accessible.”
In the CDC’s efforts to reclaim the public’s trust – particularly among individuals of color – Dr. Walensky said it was imperative to announce that racism is a public health crisis publicly.
She pledged that the CDC would partner with the Black Press of America to get critical messaging to minority communities.
“One striking thing is that the [pandemic] started in this country among the wealthy and moved rapidly to communities that didn’t have resources,” Dr. Walensky said.
“It was clear to me that the health of our nation was not going to be better until we addressed the fact that everybody in the nation had to be better. Not just pockets, we needed to reach all communities.”
Dr. Walensky reiterated that she and the CDC enjoy the full support of the Biden-Harris administration in its racism and health initiatives.
“We welcome [the Black Press] partnership, and I recognize that people who are not confident in the vaccine are those we need to meet where they are,” Dr. Walensky continued.
“Some people don’t know where to get the vaccine, and for some, it’s not convenient. Some are worried that the science isn’t complete, and some have listened to misinformation.
“The real question is as we address concerns and questions, we need to have the person conveying the information to be a trusted messenger. I may not be a trusted messenger, but you [The Black Press] are, and I would like to work with you and create that partnership so that we can provide that information and package it as your viewers and readers want it and delivered by people they trust.”
Dr. Walensky said more than 100 million people have received the Covid vaccine after over 100,000 enrolled in clinical trials to ensure efficacy.
She noted that the CDC has safety monitoring in place and hasn’t seen anything troubling.
A third booster shot is being discussed by scientists and the administration only as extra protection and not out of fear or information that the vaccines would wear off, Dr. Walensky assured.
Dr. Walensky noted that none were involved in clinical trials, but early results in about 700 baby deliveries have revealed good news for pregnant women.
“There is early data to suggest that if you’re pregnant and you receive the vaccine, you can pass the antibodies to your babies, so there’s some potential that the baby might be protected as well,” Dr. Walensky said.