Kelly Dumas, LCSW, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer at BestSelf Behavioral Health, was kind enough to share her journey from feeling hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine to ultimately choosing to get vaccinated. As Kelly says, “I encourage anyone who has been vaccinated to share your journey. You may not know who sees you as a trusted individual and your story may be just what is needed to help them decide. If we agree to cancel judgement and listen to understand why someone may be resistant or hesitant to being vaccinated, I think we could have more success in helping some move from hesitancy to fully vaccinated.”
As I was wrapping up a phone call on the status of my latest supportive housing venture, the question I dreaded the most these days was asked “Woman of God did you get your vaccine yet?”. My brain was screaming all sorts of objections and I immediately felt myself in a conundrum. My brain was trying to respond but his question was speaking to my faith. Up until that point I had encountered a number of people ready to “educate” me into realizing how much I needed this vaccine, something I always found offensive. From where I stood, many times the people offering to educate could benefit from a bit of education themselves. Education on the history of how our medical system has lied to, mistreated, and experimented on our most vulnerable people. ‘You don’t know about Tuskegee? Never heard of Dr. Sims? Who is Henrietta Lacks?’ And don’t get me started on the Johnson Baby Powder fiasco. Johnson baby powder was a staple in most black households that I knew growing up. So for me, someone trying to talk to me about needing a vaccine without having knowledge of these historical atrocities is mis-educated. And no amount of “education” you provide can change the history and current treatment of people who look like me. I don’t trust it. Period. But my business partner on the other end of the phone was well aware of all these things and more, but most importantly he was also aware of my faith. So my response of refusal to take a medicine developed under “Warp Speed” and prioritized to communities of color was just too “suspect” for me, was met with immediate affirmation of legitimate concerns, however followed by a reminder that we trust in God, not a vaccine. The conversation went on to talk about how important it is during these times to lean into our faith and knowing that God works through people. No weapon formed against us shall prosper. Taking the vaccine for the protection it offers and trusting that God will protect me from any unforeseen dangers was now at the forefront of my mind.
My conversation was perfect timing to help me determine that I would take the vaccine and trust God to do the rest. Prior to that call I had been watching some colleagues and friends who had taken the vaccine. I would look for any updates or information on how they were feeling. Of course in my head I knew that it may be years before some side effects are fully known, but I guess I was looking for any immediate effects. And besides the sore arm, fatigue, feeling like coming down with something, there was nothing that compared to the horror I had watched some of my friends and family go through after catching COVID. Some hospitalized alone with no family or friends able to see them for days, weeks, sometimes months. While neither option was one I would have chosen for myself, I had to pray and then make what I believed to be the best decision for me. I refer to my initial feelings and thoughts around the vaccine as my period of resistance because in the beginning I was very opposed to everything about the vaccine. I believe my move to hesitancy came after I was able to tell my supervisor how all this vaccine talk was very uncomfortable for me especially in our meetings. I had no intentions of getting vaccinated and didn’t want to be judged or made to feel like there was something wrong with me for making this decision. Her immediate response was ‘we will not have any vaccine shaming around here! We want to meet people where they’re at”. Well that was a pleasant and unexpected response. And coming from the President of the company I felt less like I needed to hide my resistance which allowed me to speak more comfortably about where I stood and while that resulted in a lot of offers to “educate” me, it also allowed opportunity for me to educate people on my distrust of the medical system and how it has nothing to do with education. There are many like me who just don’t trust it, so how do we start to re-build that trust? One place to start is by having dialogue led and facilitated by people who are trusted in the community, not some ‘know-it-all’ health official telling you how selfish you are or uneducated if you don’t decide to roll up your sleeve. My trusted individuals came in the form of my sister Kim, Aunt Marsha, Pastor Jones, colleagues Dr. Nsiah, Mona, Liz, Jim, who I could trust to give me accurate accounts of their experience getting vaccinated and to answer any questions I had.
So my decision was made. I decided that it was important to record my journey and post to Facebook for anyone who may benefit from me sharing my experience and symptoms. I know that being able to watch from a distance and hear from others I knew helped me tremendously. Almost immediately after going live with talking about my decision to get vaccinated I received a couple of messages from people saying they had doubts and wanted to see how I felt afterwards. Over the next few weeks I received texts and calls from people and at least 3 were to tell me they have decided to get vaccinated and me sharing my experience helped. So I encourage anyone who has been vaccinated to share your journey. You may not know who sees you as a trusted individual and your story may be just what is needed to help them decide. If we agree to cancel judgement and listen to understand why someone may be resistant or hesitant to being vaccinated, I think we could have more success in helping some move from hesitancy to fully vaccinated.