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Medical professionals tell personal stories about COVID-19, vaccine 

More than 140 million Americans have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and as of press time, almost 75,000 SLO County residents were fully vaccinated and more than 11,000 were partially vaccinated.

click to enlarge UNDERSTANDING The NAACP SLO County and R.A.C.E. Matters organizations hosted a virtual community conversation about the COVID-19 vaccines with community leaders and local medical professionals. - IMAGE COURTESY OF NAACP SLO COUNTY
  • Image Courtesy Of NAACP SLO County
  • UNDERSTANDING The NAACP SLO County and R.A.C.E. Matters organizations hosted a virtual community conversation about the COVID-19 vaccines with community leaders and local medical professionals.

About 208,000 SLO County residents remain unvaccinated.

In an effort to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and share personal experiences about the virus and getting vaccinated, NAACP SLO County and R.A.C.E. Matters SLO hosted a virtual community conversation with local leaders and medical professionals.

Licensed acupuncturist and herbalist Veronica Avery told viewers that when she first thought about preventative measures against the coronavirus, she put her daughter's safety and needs at the forefront. Avery is the health committee chair for NAACP SLO County and practices traditional Chinese medicine in Paso Robles.

"We started a regimen of traditional Chinese medicine herbs and supplements to boost our immune system, fighting off disease, but I was very hesitant to get vaccinated," she said.

When Phase 1A allowed health care workers to get their first shot, Avery said she wasn't ready yet. At the time she was on SLO County's Vaccine Task Force representing the local NAACP chapter and collaborated with others to ensure that vulnerable community members would have timely and equitable access to vaccines.

"The hardest part was prioritizing subgroups, when in fact, there were so many members of our beloved community that just felt that they were also at risk. At this time our active cases were skyrocketing and vaccine supplies were pretty low, so I didn't feel as vulnerable as some," Avery said.

As the months went by, Avery said she started learning that many family members and friends had gotten their inoculation.

"I'm taking my herbs and I'm boosting my immune system, but I hadn't taken the next steps to reduce my risk of infection or to reduce the risk of passing on the virus to others," she said.

She wasn't moved to get the vaccine until her daughter had to decide whether to get the tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine to attend an in-person math class—which her daughter decided to do after a week of deliberation.

"Thinking deeply about this ... There is a disease here in our own country that my body has never encountered. To keep my daughter safe, my family safe, my patients, and my friends, I decided to do my part," she said. "My body will incorporate this really strong medicine, and it will fight an even stronger pathogen."

Dr. Steve Clark, the medical director for Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, said he saw a lot of questions in the forum chat box about whether immunocompromised individuals can get the vaccine.

Clark's sister, who's immunocompromised, immediately got the vaccine when it was her turn. She made the decision, he said, after witnessing the effects the virus close to home.

Clark said he comes from a blended family of mostly adopted siblings and spent a lot of time on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona because his father is American Indian. When the pandemic hit locally, Clark alerted family members and tried to get the word out, especially on the Hopi Reservation.

He lost an aunt who lived on the reservation to COVID-19 and said that several of his family members were infected with the virus.

Dr. Kevin Ferguson, the medical director of pathology and clinical laboratory for Marian Regional Medical Center, told forum attendees that vaccines are effective at preventing hospitalizations and death. Ferguson said when he was offered the vaccine, he was first in the line to get it.

"The goal is to keep the community safe. You know, I had a very close aunt that died from coronavirus in a nursing home and it was very difficult for our family," Ferguson said. Δ

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