By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
Like many African Americans, Anthony Tibbs, a local promoter/marketer in Seattle, was hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Although he was aware of the symptoms and risks, he was still on the fence about whether or not the vaccine was right for him or a risk as he continued to deliberate on whether or not to receive the vaccinations.
Unfortunately for Tibbs, COVID did not give him time to make that decision. On August 17, Tibbs woke up and things within his body were not the same. He began experiencing pain around his eyes. He’d not experienced this before but at the time he paid it no mind because it was a busy day and he had some things to do before heading out of town for a family vacation.
“I remember waking up and my eyes were hurting,” says Tibbs. “I mean I couldn’t look left, right, up or down without pain. I could not rub them and they hurt so bad it began to give me a headache but I had to get myself ready to leave town.”
Four days later while walking through Disneyland, chills and fatigue set in and in his mind the question everyone has to ask themselves in these days when feeling under the weather, “I wonder if this is COVID?”
“I was getting tired and sweating like mad,” recalled Tibbs, after walking through Disneyland for several hours. “[I was] so tired I ended up leaving my family in the park and having to go sit in the car for about 3 or 4 hours. I had never felt this sick, ever!”
According to doctors everyone’s body is different and COVID can affect each person differently. In Tibbs’ case, there was no loss of smell or taste or flu like symptoms, but the fatigue, chills and body shakes, shook him to the core.
“I just remember shaking uncontrollably,” said Tibbs. “Feeling cold and at the time I had not checked my temperature. I didn’t check it until I returned back to Seattle. When I did check it, I was at 104 degrees and that’s when I knew maybe it’s time to go to the doctor.”
At that moment, Tibbs’ hesitancy about the vaccine came full circle. Like many African Americans there is a hesitancy or trust issue on whether or not to trust to the ruling establishment on whether the vaccine is safe. And for African Americans this hesitancy is warranted given the history the American medical system has with unequal and in some instances inhuman treatment the medical field has had on Black people.
Dr. George Counts, one of the nation’s leading experts on infectious diseases, says that medical experiments that specifically targeted Blacks as test subjects contribute to the hesitancy Black Americans have when it comes to getting vaccinated and protecting their families and the community.
“In the early part of the 20th century the medical profession and the CDC began doing experiments on Black people,” says Counts. “Known as the Tuskegee Experiments and other experiments, these unethical experiments have made Blacks in this country very weary and untrusting of the intentions of the medical profession and the government.”
Because of this history, trusting science has been a major stumbling block for the Biden administration and doctors to convince the African American community to buy in to the safety of the vaccine. And because of this hesitancy the Black community has suffered tremendously in the wake of COVID-19. And so, experts like Dr. Mark Del Baccaro, who provides oversite for both the testing and the vaccine strategy team at Public Health – Seattle King County, believes finding someone who one can trust and trust in the information given is paramount.
“The concept of somebody you trust is the key to battling hesitancy,” says Del Beccaro, “Part of the influence is finding someone you can trust because they come from a place we feel goes beyond just statistics.”
After arriving back in Seattle, Tibbs immediately went to the hospital and learned what he feared. He had indeed contracted the deadly virus.
“I pretty much had it in the back of mind that this may be COVID,” says Tibbs. “But I was hoping that it was just a slight cold or maybe even the flu. But unfortunately, I had contracted COVID. I didn’t have the regular symptoms you heard about, coughing, headache, but the shakes and the fatigue continued.”
After several hours at the hospital, Tibbs learned that there were no beds available, and since his symptoms weren’t life threatening at the time, they sent him home to quarantine himself.
“I think I was in the hospital ‘til ten o’clock that night,” says Tibbs. “Because there were no beds and my breathing was fine and my oxygen levels were good, keeping me over night was not an option, so I went home. But the symptoms got worse. I mean I was sweating so badly my sheets were soaked and I couldn’t stop shaking.”
Following his doctor’s advice, Tibbs quarantined himself at home and eventually, after two COVID tests, tested negative. However, his journey was not over.
“What was strange was after being tested the cough came about and is still prevalent today,” says Tibbs. “I still have a slight cough that is pretty persistent.”
At this time in the pandemic with COVID doing its best to adapt and change to stay relevant, producing different variants, the pandemic has managed to impact communities of color at an alarming rate and the decision to vaccinate is not an easy one for most Black people.
Jeff Pegues, a long-time friend of Tibbs who grew up in the same neighborhood, was also diagnosed with COVID and just as Tibbs struggled with whether or not to get vaccinated, albeit too late, he too was inflicted with debilitating and even deadly virus.
According to Pegues, it is the lack of trust in the medical field and that medicines were not utilized in his upbringing that attributes to his hesitancy about the COVID vaccine.
“I have never relied on medicines,” says Pegues. “All my life my family has never been a take some medicine kind of family. Old school remedies like “hot totties” liquor mixed with tea or coffee was my mother’s remedies. So, I never took medicines.”
Like Tibbs, Pegues’ symptoms were not bad enough to be admitted to the hospital, but he also acknowledged that he too had not felt this bad before.
“The doctors suggest my returning home and quarantine because my blood and oxygen levels where good so keeping me in the hospital was not necessary, but I felt terrible,” says Pegues. “I had never felt such fatigue like this, and although I am naturally thin, I still lost quite a bit of weight but the fatigue and heaviness feeling scared me. My first thought was I may die from this.”
The Department of Health statistics as of September 20, 2021, shows that 75 percent of Washingtonian 12 years and older have receive at least one dose of the vaccine and 69 percent of people 12 years and older are fully vaccinated.
Of the 628,488 confirmed cases in Washington state, African Americans account for about five percent of the total cases. And while five percent may not seem like much, when broken down into basic numbers African Americans account for one out of every twenty confirmed COVID cases in the state.
“Over 600,000 Americans have died from this terrible disease, it is not a joke, says Del Beccaro. “But the thing that will mend and to change the minds of some people is when it happens to them or someone they are really close to. So, you don’t worry about something until it is in your face or you don’t miss something or someone until it or they are gone.”
Tibbs, who generally keeps his personal matters close to his vest, believes that people should take actions to protect themselves from COVID sooner than later.
“I really don’t know what to tell my community because as much as the world is fighting this thing, it is still an individual battle,” says Tibbs. “Yes, your family can be affected by someone getting sick, but when you’re sick it is just you having to deal with it. I really don’t have, at this moment, any words except that this virus is no joke, this is real, it is definitely real. It is not a hoax, definitely wear your mask and take all necessary precautions because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”