Black Chicagoans worried about Covid-19 vaccine as historic hospital prepares to close

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CHICAGO – Like many black people in Chicago, Etta Davis is afraid of catching Covid-19. She has heart disease and diabetes and does her best to wear her mask and stay safe. Still, she doesn’t place much hope in the next vaccine.

She hears city leaders say her community will come first, but as a low-income black woman on the South Side, she says she has good reason to doubt it.

“We won’t get it first, we know that,” she said. “I keep it true. Money talks to people with money. They’ll get it first. “

The city of Chicago is preparing to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine as early as next week, and officials stress the process will be free and fair. But many black people, who are most likely to die from the coronavirus, don’t believe what they hear.

Just as the city promotes immunization in low-income black neighborhoods, it plans to close the Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, a historic teaching hospital beloved by many blacks on the South Side. The upcoming shutdown has sparked anger and protests from residents who see the decision as proof that city leaders and health officials don’t care about their access to healthcare.

Davis said she struggled to understand how a hospital serving a black community could shut down amid a pandemic, which would disproportionately harm her. Blacks accounted for nearly 40% of Covid-19-related deaths in Chicago, but they make up less than a third of the population. This disparity, black residents said, makes it difficult to trust officials who say black people will receive a safe and fair vaccine.

During a protest outside Mercy Hospital on Wednesday, Robin Hood, pastor of Redeemed Outreach Ministries in Chicago, said the closure would sow suspicion among community members, who have seen three other hospitals shut across the city since. 2018.

“They don’t trust the government. They have observed what has happened to closed hospitals in Chicago over the past 20 years. We have closed several hospitals, ”Hood said. “Our communities are always left behind when it comes to the most basic needs, and that is health care.”

Trinity Health, which owns Mercy Hospital, said the institution was not profitable enough and could close as early as February. Patients and activists have called on the city to facilitate the sale of the hospital to a new owner who would pledge to provide care to poor and black Chicagoans.

With no current buyer, Carol Schneider, CEO of Mercy Hospital, said the site will be turned into an emergency care center. Ahead of its closure, the hospital will administer the Covid-19 vaccine “so we all work with the city of Chicago to make sure the vaccine gets to those who need it most as soon as possible.”

Chicagoan Antwain Miller shares Davis’ concern that “it’s all about the money.”

“I have a feeling the most disadvantaged people would be left behind,” said Miller, who took part in a protest against the shutdown and mentioned the long history of medical abuse of black patients and his mistrust of it. regard to medical providers. “Would they give us the full vaccine?” They could give us a generic version of the vaccine. “

There is no “generic” vaccine and no proof that black people will receive anything different from others, but Miller isn’t the only one wondering if black people might be harmed or mistreated by providers.

Chicago resident Yolanda Pitts said she and her children would not take the vaccine: “The African American community, we just don’t trust you. Because we feel like we’re the first person they want to test on.

Even residents who are eager to take it don’t blame their suspicious neighbors. Jitu Brown, a born and raised South Sider and national director of the Journey for Justice Alliance, a racial justice group, blamed vaccination failures on politicians who have lost the trust of the people they serve.

“A lot of these people who call for the people’s vote and talk about progressive rhetoric are maintaining the status quo. Ignoring the voice of the community is the status quo. Under-serving black and brown communities is not courageous, it’s cowardly, ”Brown said. “Be courageous, face the ugliness of this country and commit to transforming it. Otherwise, close it.

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