Cori Bush is a renaissance woman. Not only is the Missouri congresswoman the first Black woman to represent the state’s First Congressional District, she’s also a registered nurse, ordained pastor for the people of St. Louis, community organizer, single mother, and the first activist from the Black Lives Matter movement ever elected to the United States Congress.
She also is currently uninsured.
That’s what led Rep. Bush to approach The Root about having a one-on-one conversation with epidemiologist and anti-racism activist Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones to discuss the benefits and any potential risks of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Rep. Cori Bush and Dr. Jones have a frank discussion about how the medical establishment can address the concerns Black folks have about the vaccine given past abuses against the Black community, and where those from the hardest hit communities fit into the larger picture in the video above.
“I [would] go to the ER for a sinus infection or a toothache,” said Bush. “And it was really difficult to pay those bills after receiving emergency room care.”
Congresswoman Cori Bush is among the approximately 30 million people who live without health insurance in this country (though she will be insured come Feb. 1), with people of color making up about half of the uninsured. Black folks are also more than one and a half times more likely to be without coverage than white people. And in the midst of a global pandemic, Rep. Bush is paying special attention to public health concerns faced by vulnerable populations—like people who are unhoused, the uninsured, and those who are incarcerated—especially after her own two monthlong encounter with COVID-19.
“I just felt like a train hit me,” Bush said. “I was sick to the point where I could not get out of the bed. If I did, it took all of my energy just to make it to the bathroom and back. There were days where I could not even lift the cell phone [next to me].”
Over 59,000 Black people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, roughly one year after the CDC confirmed the first case of the disease in Washington state. And despite FDA approval for the first two COVID-19 vaccinations by Moderna and Pfizer last December, a new report by Kaiser Health News found that Black Americans are getting immunized at “dramatically lower rates” than their white counterparts.
Rep. Bush knows firsthand about the reluctance some of her constituents have about getting vaccinated.
“They don’t want to be the guinea pigs, even though they understand that the Black community and our brown community have been hit the hardest,” she said. “They’d rather risk that than be used as an ‘experiment.’”
Dr. Jones has looked closely at both vaccines and says she will protect herself by getting the vaccination once it is her turn.
“If we don’t let it be known that these vaccines that we have right now are really good vaccines and that they are another huge way that we could protect our people, that if our people reject this, then it might be that COVID-19 kind of settles into Black communities in the same way that HIV/AIDS has settled into Black communities,” said Dr. Jones.
Rep. Bush believes acknowledging the stark health disparities between Black and white Americans due to structural racism and inequality is imperative to rebuilding Black folks’ confidence in the medical system. That way individuals will be more likely to trust the information and resources they are given, especially about the COVID-19 vaccinations. She hopes that her conversation with Dr. Jones will answer some of the questions other Black folks may have about them.
“Hopefully this is a little part of that because I chose to be vulnerable with my own situation and ask those questions and put myself out there,” said Bush. “We hear all the time, ‘you need to get the vaccination, talk to your medical provider.’ Well, what about people who don’t have a medical provider? Who do we talk to? Where do we get information from about how this vaccine will affect us?”
Ultimately, Rep. Bush will play whatever role she needs in order to ensure that the greatest number of people understand their options and have the most accurate information about the vaccines.
“I want to take the vaccinations. I want to keep myself safe, my family, my loved ones, my staff and everyone around me, [and] my community safe,” said Bush.