Joan Coleman, a math teacher at Hartford Public High School, getting the COVID-19 vaccination at Saint Francis Hospital. Adria Watson / CT Mirror

While the past year has highlighted many of the challenges we as a society face, there has also been some light amongst the darkness. And that light just got brighter with the news that more and more of our Connecticut residents will soon be able to get their COVID vaccines. As of April, all residents over the age of 16 will be eligible to sign up for their immunization appointment.

Thomas J. Clarke II

More than 500,000 of our family and neighbors have already started the vaccination process —but this road is long and we can’t afford to take our collective foot off the gas.

There is simply more work to be done.

As a Black man, I understand the hesitancy and trepidation many in our community feel about the health care system. There are few among us who haven’t heard the stories of Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, and perhaps more personal stories of discrimination of our own.

While those historical examples should never be forgotten, the situation we find ourselves in now will also be long remembered and our community needs to be on the right side of that history.

A recent study showed that over 40% of both Black men and women would “wait and see” about getting the vaccine. That is extremely worrisome —because to be frank, our community doesn’t have time to “wait and see.” Our community has been getting sick and dying at a rate far higher than other ethnic groups.

The problem is two -fold —yes there is hesitancy among many in our community about the safety and need for the vaccine, but we also have to address the access issues. While the pandemic was raging, many of our neighbors found themselves without reliable access to food. So that did we do? We rallied. We held food drives. We reached out to our neighbors and took care of each other.

And now, just as then we also need to take care of each other by getting vaccinated and helping those in our community overcome vaccine access issues.

We must continue to work to ensure that the vaccine comes to the communities who need it most.

That is just what my organization has been focused on since the vaccine began rolling out several weeks ago. Helping to run and sponsor pop up vaccination sites, in neighborhoods where we can make the most impact. For those who do come to get their vaccine, any hesitancy usually turns into gratitude once they understand how the vaccine works, and hear directly from members of our community about the safety profile of the vaccines, and the difference they are making in the community by being part of the solution to stop COVID.

The roll out has had understandable logistical issues —but we’re making progress. I fully expect, as Gov. Ned Lamont laid out, that as more doses become available, that progress will continue.

I urge my friends, neighbors, family and all Connecticut residents —all people across the globe–  when it is your turn to be vaccinated —do it. For your health, the health of others and the health of our community as a whole.

We can see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel.  Let’s get there together.

T.J. Clarke II is the Majority Leader of the Hartford Court of Common Council.

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