Thursday October 21st, 2021 12:55PM

Black California surgeon 'walks the walk' on virus vaccine

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Dr. David Tom Cooke says his choice to participate in a clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine is like his grandmother’s decision to leave the Jim Crow South to work in California’s naval shipyards during World War II. She was determined to contribute even though the country didn't recognize her as worthy of full rights.

Today, it's Cooke's sense of duty and experience as a Black man that led him to test out Pfizer's vaccine in August and make it his mission to allay concerns about its safety among Black friends, family and community members. He's also driven by an understanding of skepticism toward the medical profession among many Black Americans, rooted in a history of poor health outcomes and abusive research.

“When you look at the scourge of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities of color are disproportionately affected in regards to death," said Cooke, head of general thoracic surgery at UC Davis Health, the Sacramento area's major trauma center. “Therefore, it’s imperative that we enroll people of color into these clinical trials enough to show they're effective in these really at-risk communities."

Cooke, 48, was concerned when he saw a lack of diversity among participants in Moderna's clinical trial. So when UC Davis had the opportunity to connect people with a trial by Pfizer, he volunteered. He got the first shot in August and recently learned he'd been given the actual vaccine.

“I felt that in order to increase enrollment in these clinical trials and make a difference in this global pandemic, I needed to walk the walk,” Cooke said.

For him, the understanding of distrust in the Black community is personal — even some of his own family didn't plan to take the vaccine until they learned he had tried it.

His parents, former principals in Oakland public schools, still feel the need to tell any new doctor or nurse they see that their son is a Harvard-trained surgeon. That's because they fear they won't get quality care otherwise, he said.

“Is that warranted? Who knows? It’s hard to say. But is it understandable? Of course it is," Cooke said.

That distrust comes from Black people being mistreated in the medical system for decades. Among the most infamous: the Tuskegee experiment, where Black men weren't told they had syphilis or treated for it so doctors could study the disease's progression, and the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used in pioneering medical research without her consent or compensation for her family.

A December survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed 40% of Black people said they would not get the coronavirus vaccine, a higher percentage than white or Hispanic people.

Distrust over unethical practices of the past also is prevalent in Native American communities, with few signing up to participate in clinical trials. That's also tied to the quick nature of the studies, which typically may need several layers of approval from tribes.

Black, Hispanic and Native Americans have been hit harder by the virus than white Americans. A Pew Research Center study shows 71% of Black Americans surveyed said they know someone who has been hospitalized or died from the virus, compared with 61% for Latinos and under 50% for white people and Asian Americans.

Cooke's informal effort to promote the vaccine in the Black community is one piece of a larger effort to increase the number of people who get the shots.

Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at New York's Long Island Jewish Medical Center, was among the first Americans to receive a vaccine. Lindsay, who is Black, told the New York Times that her goal was to “inspire people who look like me, who are skeptical in general about taking vaccines."

Covered California, the state's insurance exchange, held a news conference last month to promote the vaccine to Black residents. Doctors and nurses from historically Black medical universities and associations nationwide recorded a video “love letter,” saying they are working to ensure that respect for Black lives remains a centerpiece of coronavirus conversations.

“It is imperative that we engage with communities to address their concerns so that all of our communities can feel confident that these vaccines are safe and that they are our key to defeating this virus," said California's surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who is Black.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said relying on community messengers, like nonprofit groups, faith leaders and health care providers, will build trust “in a different way than we ever could from Sacramento."

For Cooke, he's been active on social media, sharing his experience with the vaccine and photos of other doctors and nurses, many Black, getting the shots. He's also given local radio and television interviews.

Growing up in Oakland and spending time at the schools where his parents worked shaped Cooke's worldview. He observed his parents as they interacted with all kinds of people, from students and parents to law enforcement and inner-city residents. He learned empathy and how to understand differing perspectives — lessons he's brought to patient care.

“It is not the responsibility for our communities of color that have been traditionally disadvantaged to trust us,” Cooke said. “It is the responsibility of care providers, for health care, to establish that trust."


Associated Press writer Janie Har in San Francisco contributed.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Health, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Black California surgeon 'walks the walk' on virus vaccine
For Dr. David Tom Cooke, participating in the clinical trial for Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine was one step in his efforts to allay concerns about the vaccine's safety in the Black community
11:52AM ( 3 minutes ago )
Vaccination campaign picks up speed around the world
The campaign to vanquish the coronavirus is picking up speed
11:47AM ( 8 minutes ago )
Hundreds demonstrate over fatal Minneapolis police shooting
Hundreds of protesters marched in Minneapolis to demand justice in the fatal police shooting of a 23-year-old man, the city’s first police-involved death since George Floyd died after being restrained by officers in May
9:10AM ( 2 hours ago )
U.S. News
France's go-slow coronavirus vaccination strategy backfires
France’s cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired
11:44AM ( 11 minutes ago )
New this week: Morgan Wallen music, tiger cubs and 'Herself'
This week’s new entertainment releases include not one album but a double from rising country superstar Morgan Wallen and a face-off between Ashanti and fellow R&B diva Keyshia Cole in the latest “Verzuz.”
11:36AM ( 19 minutes ago )
Slack starts the year with a global outage
Many people heading back for their first day of work in the new year are finding it a bit harder than anticipated, as the messaging service Slack experiences a global outage
11:31AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Stocks fall as trading starts for year of great expectations
U.S. stocks are falling from their record levels Monday, as trading gets underway for a year where the dominant expectation is for a powerful economic rebound to eventually sweep the world
11:04AM ( 51 minutes ago )
Fiat Chrysler, Peugeot shareholders approve merger
Shareholders of Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot have voted to merge the U.S.-Italian and French carmakers to create world’s 4th-largest auto company
10:53AM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Scotland to enter full lockdown from Tuesday
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says that from Tuesday, people in Scotland are legally required to stay at home except for essential reasons to curb a renewed surge of coronavirus infections
10:48AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
India OKs AstraZeneca and locally made COVID-19 vaccines
India has authorized two COVID-19 vaccines, paving the way for a huge inoculation program to stem the coronavirus pandemic in the world’s second-most populous country
7:56PM ( 15 hours ago )
The Latest: US virus death toll hits 350,000; surge feared
The COVID-19 death toll in the United States has surpassed 350,000 as experts anticipate another surge in coronavirus cases and deaths stemming from holiday gatherings over Christmas and New Year’s
11:48AM ( 1 day ago )
UK's Johnson warns of more lockdown measures as virus soars
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that more onerous lockdown restrictions in England are likely as the country reels from a new variant of the coronavirus that has seen infection rates soar to their highest recorded levels
11:10AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Vaccination campaign picks up speed around the world
The campaign to vanquish the coronavirus is picking up speed
11:47AM ( 8 minutes ago )
Hundreds demonstrate over fatal Minneapolis police shooting
Hundreds of protesters marched in Minneapolis to demand justice in the fatal police shooting of a 23-year-old man, the city’s first police-involved death since George Floyd died after being restrained by officers in May
9:10AM ( 2 hours ago )
Negligence claims filed in shootings amid Wisconsin protest
Claims filed on behalf of two men shot by an Illinois teen during a night of protests over a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, allege the city and Kenosha County were negligent in their response to the unrest
7:40AM ( 4 hours ago )
Fauci: Vaccinations are increasing in a 'glimmer of hope'
Federal health officials say the U.S. ramped up COVID-19 vaccinations in the past few days after a slower-than-expected start, bringing to the number of shots dispensed to about 4 million
4:14AM ( 7 hours ago )
Sheriff: Pastor dead, 2 hurt in shooting at Texas church
Authorities say a pastor has been killed and two other people were injured during a shooting at an East Texas church
1:41AM ( 10 hours ago )