A smiling young Black woman who is wearing a polo shirt and hoop earrings

Caregivers Need Support — and for People to Get Vaccinated

A smiling young Black woman who is wearing a polo shirt and hoop earrings

Kennedy King, 22, won a contest at her church for writing a rap to encourage young people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. (Screenshot captured by Danielle Parenteau-Decker / The CC Pulse)

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By Danielle Parenteau-Decker

Family caregivers take on responsibility for sick loved ones’ every need. And today, they often struggle with increased feelings of fear and isolation because of the risk that comes with even brief contact with other people — especially if the other people are unvaccinated.

How caregivers cope in this COVID-19 era was the focus of a conversation among a group of Black women during a teleconference co-hosted Jan. 13 by Black Voice News, Ethnic Media Services, the California Department of Aging and St. Paul A.M.E. Church in San Bernardino.

“We don’t want to go back,” Dr. Donna Benton, director of the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center, said, referring to the early days of the pandemic. It’s a sentiment she says many caregivers share.

At first, the vaccine helped them feel a bit safer. But now, with the variants and people who won’t get vaccinated, things are getting riskier again.

“We’re kind of again pulling back, and we can’t do our normal day-to-day activities,” Benton said she’s been told. “It’s harder to get into the grocery store. It’s harder to feel safe even if you’re boosted.”

Benton, who also teaches gerontology, said earlier in the pandemic caregivers were not prioritized to have personal protective equipment or to receive vaccines when rollout first began.

She said they were not seen as essential workers or in need of special protection. They were “almost invisible,” she said.

“The majority of care is done by us, family members … and so we are an essential part of the healthcare system,” said Benton.

Officials estimate there are about 4.5 million family caregivers in California.

“Most caregivers are in their 40s and 50s, although many, like me, we’re in our 60s and older,” said EMS director Sandy Close. She was not a panelist but commented on her experience caring for her father and husband.

Ruth Rembert’s husband has multiple myeloma, heart failure and high blood pressure.

“I do everything for him,” she said. And that takes a toll.

“In the last few months or so, I had to realize I’m a senior too. Sometimes I feel like I need a caregiver as well,” said Rembert. She also said she recently had a mammogram and needs a biopsy.

“Sometimes, you just need a break,” she said.

Rembert has some help with a housekeeper funded by her insurance company. It covers 16 hours a month of nonmedical services for seniors.

“They’ll shop for you. They’ll clean for you. They’ll do anything. And that means a lot,” Rembert said. “Those things should not just be available to certain people.”

But she said the thing most important to keeping her, her husband and others safe is vaccinations.

“We all wish this would be over. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to be anytime soon unless we take seriously the importance of vaccinations,” she said.

Some people she knows aren’t convinced, though.

>>>Read: I Faced Down Fear and Misinformation to Get Vaccinated

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t want to put that in my body. I don’t know. They did it too quickly,’ “she said. “And they didn’t. They got misinformation because they’ve been working on that for years before the pandemic.” (Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 shots are the first mRNA vaccines, but the technology behind them is the product of decades of research.)

When people say that sort of thing, she doesn’t try to change their minds. Instead, she tells them they have a choice: “You can either choose to have this vaccine in your vein or you can choose to have formaldehyde in your veins.”

“It’s like playing Russian roulette with your life and with other people’s lives.”

>>>Read: Advocates Work to Counteract Vaccine Hesitancy in Black Communities

In November, the San Bernardino St. Paul church held a contest seeking creative ways to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The winner was 22-year-old Kennedy King, who wrote a rap to reach young people.

“I noticed being around young people that we don’t tend to listen to news outlets or what other people have to say, especially older people,” she said. “We tend to listen to social media and the people we follow.”

She wanted to make the information easier to take in.

“I decided I’m going to write a little rap and make it playful even though COVID and getting a vaccine is so serious,” King said.

She said music makes these issues easier to understand, less overwhelming and even more fun. It encourages young people to listen.

“Listening is the first step,” King said. “It matters if they’re going to take that next step and apply it into their daily life.”

>>>Read: Churches Play Key Role in Getting Black People Vaccinated

The Rev. Noella Buchanan said when people are not convinced they should get vaccinated it is vitally important to be honest with them about the benefits and risks of the vaccine.

That is especially important in the Black community, which has a history of distrust of medical providers.

“If you get the vaccine, some people have side effects” she said. “When we don’t tell people the truth and something comes up and they have some sickness for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, then they think, ‘See, they lied to me.’ ”

Buchanan, a caregiver for multiple relatives for almost 35 years, also addressed the relationship between religion and the vaccine.

“Most of our elderly people are people of faith, and they have this belief that their faith is going to carry them through,” she said. “Now, you know, I’m a retired preacher in three generations of preachers, so I do believe in prayer, but I also believe that way has been made for us.”

“If God has opened up a way for someone to come up with the vaccine, we need to trust.”

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