Dr. Charles Drew once told the world that “excellence of performance will transcend any artificial barriers created by man.”
Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed the tragic results of artificial barriers created by man and sustained by discriminatory systems that are decades and centuries old. People of color, especially Black Americans, have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, both in case rates and lives lost.
Even as we are on the cusp of crushing the virus in Washington, DC, those disparities persist. Today, approximately 80 percent of DC residents getting infected with COVID-19 are African American, and since May 1, approximately 90 percent of Washingtonians who have died due to COVID-19 were African American.
We knew prior to COVID-19 about stark racial disparities in health outcomes here in DC and across the nation. We have addressed these disparities at our annual Maternal and Infant Health Summits. We addressed the differences in life expectancy within Washington, DC when we put forth a plan to build affordable housing in every part of our city. And even at the height of the financial crisis in 2020, we recognized these disparities by passing a budget that put us on track to deliver a new state-of-the-art hospital in Ward 8 and five Centers of Excellence at Howard University Hospital.
In our 2018 Health Equity Report, we specifically noted that the only way to truly discard the legacies of racism and segregation is to craft a new legacy – one built on a shared vision for equity. That is why the budget I sent to the Council this year is focused on equity and on delivering a health care system that meets the needs of all residents and makes us more resilient for the challenges that lie ahead. We are changing how we deliver health care to ensure more residents are getting the right and most appropriate care at the right time. And we are addressing the social determinants of health such as transportation, education, proximity to care, livable income, and housing.
And there is an action that everyone in our community who is 12 and older can take right now to support this work: you can and should get vaccinated. Get vaccinated because it is the right thing to do to protect your own health. Get vaccinated because it is the right thing to do to protect the health of people around you. And get vaccinated because we must stop this virus in its tracks.
We cannot allow COVID-19 to persist in our community. We cannot allow COVID-19 to become a virus that continues to tear through Black communities and devastate Black families. The vaccines are safe and extremely effective. Science has delivered us a powerful tool to transcend the barriers that causing tragic racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. Please get vaccinated, DC.
Find a vaccination site close to you by going to vaccines.gov or texting your zip code to GETVAX (438829). At three DC locations – Anacostia High School, the RISE Demonstration Center, and Ron Brown High School – DC residents 18 and older who get vaccinated can enter to win a free car, a year of free groceries, or a year of free Metro. All DC residents 12 and older who get vaccinated at these sites will receive a $51 VISA gift card.