While many people across the country are clamoring to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Robert Hancock wasn’t one of them. The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital Environmental Management Service (EMS) supervisor admitted that he was initially afraid to get it.

“I would say I was scared,” Hancock, who supervises a large team responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the hospital, said. “I was just nervous about it because I considered it experimental and I didn’t know what the side effects were really going to be.”

That was until he sat down and had a long conversation with a Tampa VA doctor who walked him through the process and explained the benefits of being vaccinated. The doctor then went with him as he received the shot. Hancock was so impressed by what he heard that he talked to two other EMS employees and brought them to be vaccinated later that same day.

Vaccinations protect you, family, Veterans, community

Hancock was not alone in his initial apprehension. Recent studies have shown that some people in the minority community – and especially African Americans like Hancock – are skeptical about being vaccinated.

Chaplain Roosevelt Hanna recently explained that the Black community in particular is suspicious due to historic mistreatment by the medical community, such as the Tuskegee Experiment that saw a group of Black men who had syphilis denied treatment for 40 years.

Despite this, a group of Black and Hispanic EMS leaders are trying to spread the word that vaccinations are the best way to protect yourself, your family, our Veterans and the community as a whole.

Pictured above are, from left, Javier Vicente (EMS work leader), Frederick Wright (EMS general foreman), Avis Bradshaw (EMS assistant chief), Hancock and Reginald Polnitz (EMS supervisor).

Polnitz said he wasn’t nervous about getting the shot, but he did do his research first. He said his wife was a big proponent of getting vaccinated.

“Me, my wife and my son all had COVID,” he shared. “I really wasn’t scared but it was kind of in the experimental stage when they first started talking about the shots. So, I did some research and I talked to a friend of mine who’s a doctor just to be informed.”

The safety of family

Ensuring the safety of family members was one of biggest reasons many of the EMS leaders gave for getting vaccinated.

“I got the vaccine because they offered it. Also because, since I work here, I didn’t want to take it home,” said Vicente. “My wife and my kids, they’re not able to get the vaccine yet. I didn’t want to risk bringing it home to anybody else. I personally have some family members who have gotten the disease and I just felt like protecting myself and my family was the number one thing.”

For Bradshaw, who also contracted COVID-19 last year, the priority was protecting her 73-year-old mother.

“I want to protect my mom. To protect my family as well as the Veterans in the hospital. I can say that many African American people are apprehensive about taking the COVID shot. They think it’s a conspiracy to hurt the Black community. I honestly say I’m a living testament that it’s not. I’m fine after both doses.”

Hancock agreed.

“I would recommend that anybody of color, African American, any nationality, given the opportunity to be vaccinated, take it. All that stuff I was apprehensive and scared about, it was just a sore arm. I’ve had a sore arm before like when you get a flu shot.”

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Published on Feb. 24, 2021

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