When Harvard Medical School switched to remote learning last March, Silvia Huerta Lopez went back to her family in New Jersey. She had quarantined for two weeks before leaving Boston, to avoid potentially bringing the novel coronavirus home. But her entire family was already sick and coughing — months later they all tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
Booster is a series exploring the COVID-19 vaccine, and what it means for young people — from the science behind it to how it impacts our lives. In this op-ed, LaShyra "Lash" Nolan explores how centuries of medical racism contributes to some in the Black community mistrusting the COVID vaccine.
It’s December in my Southern California town, and the mornings are always cold. If I can convince my father to turn on the barely functional heater before bedtime, he will turn it off by four in the morning to save money. I do not blame him. Neither he nor my mother has a stable job — and not only because of the widespread job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In spite of being two of the hardest-working people I know, they have lived at the economic edge — and sometimes slipped over it — my entire life.
“Community service is always going to be central to what I do,” says second-year MD student Jalen Benson. “These incredible institutions like Harvard have a lot of low-income—and especially Black and brown—people in their shadows who don’t feel they can access state-of-the-art hospitals. A large part of the reason is historic and institutional barriers that are present today, so my goal is to minimize those barriers.”
A young Black man arrives in the emergency room, doubled over in pain from a sickle cell crisis. “It’s an act,” says the attending physician dismissively. “I think he just wants drugs.” The attending refuses to prescribe the opioids he might give to a white patient in similar straits. Andrea Reid, MD ’88, associate dean for student and multicultural affairs for the Program in Medical Education and director of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs at Harvard Medical School, witnessed too many such scenes as a trainee in Boston-area hospitals in the 1980s and ’90s.
MD students’ telehealth initiative provides pandemic support: The severe pain and lengthy hospital stay could have been avoided, said Angela, an undocumented immigrant from Colombia, if only the application she had submitted to receive Charity Care in New Jersey two months earlier had been approved, or if just one of the nearly 70 follow-up calls she made had been returned.
For Andrea Reid, the outpouring of interest in Harvard Medical School’s effort to combat racism has been affirming and heartening—scores of faculty and students have raised their hands to say, “I’m ready to help.”
LaShyra Nolen has packed a lot into her first 15 months as a medical student. Elected president of her Harvard Medical School (HMS) Class of 2023, which by Harvard tradition also meant she presided over the Student Council as a first-year student, Nolen became the first Black woman on record to hold the position.