Surgeon General Combats Vaccine Hesitancy
California’s top doctor is using her position of authority to reassure the state’s Black communities that COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
Nadine Burke Harris, M.D. ’01, who has served as California surgeon general since 2019, is starring in a series of ads appearing on television and social media where she has a conversation with a young Black photographer from the Bay Area who says he and his family are hesitant to get inoculated.
“I’m not sure if there’s anything I can say to my family members to convince them to take the COVID-19 vaccine,” Darius, a photographer from East Palo Alto, says in a 30-second television version of the ad. “I’m not even sure if I’m convinced.”
Burke Harris responds to him from her office, saying actions speak louder than words.
“After looking at all of the data and the science about these vaccines, I got the vaccine,” she said. “And I made sure my mom and dad got the vaccine, because these vaccines are safe.”
She said last week on Twitter that she remembered her own vaccine appointment as “joyful” and said she wasn’t concerned about possible side effects, even though she received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that was paused recently because of blood clots reported by six of the nearly 7 million people who had received it.
“The benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks,” she wrote in her tweet. “I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
Burke Harris, a pediatrician, was sworn in as the state’s first-ever surgeon general in February 2019.
The vaccination campaign, from the California Department of Public Health, is called “Let’s Get to ImmUnity” and targets Black communities both because they have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic and because vaccines rates have been lower there.
“The campaign will connect with the Black and African American community by taking a listening-first approach to understand their unique concerns, partnering with trusted Black and African American leaders, and using culturally resonant content,” the department said in a press release.
The campaign also includes localized efforts focused on areas identified by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California as scoring poorly in factors like health care access, transportation, housing and more.
“Let’s Get to ImmUnity” is part of the state’s broader, $40 million outreach campaign to encourage vaccines.