Dear Culture

Hot Vaxx Summer: Dr. Florencia Greer Polite


It’s the question on everyone’s minds this summer as folks are returning to life outdoors post-quarantine. This week on the Dear Culture podcast, hosts theGrio Social Media Director Shana Pinnock and Managing Editor Gerren Keith Gaynor welcomed a special guest to ask: Dear Culture, are you vaccinated? 

According to the University of Oxford, more than 3 billion people worldwide have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the U.S. currently ranking third behind India and Mainland China with the highest number of doses administered. The White House says it fell short of its goal to have 70% of Americans receive at least one dose by July 4.

Joining our hosts this week to weigh in on the topic was Dr. Florencia Greer Polite, an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Polite said for the first time since the pandemic began, she is beginning to feel hopeful. 

“We have been very affected by the pandemic as a health care specialty,” said Polite. “I’ll tell you 16 months in, this is the first light that I’ve seen at the end of the tunnel and that’s come with vaccinations.” 

For Gaynor, choosing to get vaccinated was about returning to life as he knew it and having peace of mind.

“It got to the point where I just wanted my freedom back,” said Gaynor. “There was this anxiety around ‘what if I catch it when I’m on the train or a plane?’ For me, getting vaccinated was about calming some of that anxiety so I can move how I like to move, without worrying about contracting the virus.”

Gaynor also said he wanted to be an example for friends and family, but he recognizes getting the vaccine is an individual choice. Family was also at the root of Pinnock’s decision to get the shot, noting the ways in which the virus disproportionately affected Black Americans. 

“Seeing how many people, especially older Black people who were dying from this, and I was like ‘there’s no way in hell I’m not going to get vaccinated and instead potentially pass this on to my parents,’” she explained.  

Pinnock also shared the story of a family friend who lost his mother to the virus just days after learning she had contracted it.   

While the number of administered vaccine doses rises daily, vaccine hesitancy is prevalent among Black Americans, with about a quarter of Black adults choosing the “wait and see” approach, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

Polite explained that, at this point, access to the vaccine is no longer an issue and the active choice to not get vaccinated and fears around the vaccine are fueled by miseducation.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of sources playing to our fears, playing to the years of mistreatment of Black people, quite frankly, at the hands of the health care system,” said Polite. “At this point, we do know the vaccine is safe. That’s actually not to be debated, but what we have to make sure is that how people know it’s safe.” 

Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson issued a temporary halt on its one-dose vaccine while government health advisers looked into reports of the vaccine causing blood clots. Polite said the risk of getting a blood clot from the J&J is about one in a million for women, which she said is lower than the risk of getting a blood clot from birth control.

“The risk of lupus, the risk of infertility, those things are slim to none and slim is on vacation because those are not actually true risks of the vaccination,” said Polite. “The risk of COVID is real.”