By Matthew Rodriguez
Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor
Even on a Saturday, NAACP Pasadena branch President Allen Edson comes into the office to help answer the phones. As he speaks to a constituent on the phone, Edson sits down in his ordinary office chair with his eggshell white NAACP bomber jacket draped over it.
Around the room are reminders of why Edson continues to work for the NAACP. Across the room is a mural of the black power fist. In front of it, pinned to a room divider is a silhouette target Edson used when he went to the range with some Pasadena police officers. Tucked in between the two is a nurse and patient receiving their final dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
For the past several weeks, Edson and the NAACP transformed their office space into a pop-up vaccine clinic to have members vaccinated. With doses provided by Pasadena Public Health and nurses from Huntington Hospital, the pop-up clinic has vaccinated close to 300 people with at least one dose, with 54 people receiving their second dose March 27.
“It’s about getting the African American community vaccinated,” Edson said on why he organized the clinics.
The idea of the pop-up clinics first came to Edson while working with the Huntington Hospital in the winter.
“Allen requested it. He said he wanted to be part of the effort to vaccinate the African American community,” added manager of community outreach Ruth Pichaj.
However, the NAACP’s clinic is not unique. In underserved communities across Pasadena, Pichaj, Huntington Hospital and other community organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, have organized vaccination sites in Pasadena Community Job Center, Villa Parke and Harambee Ministries. Clinics like these have helped fill the racial disparity amongst vaccinations in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only know the race/ethnicity data for about 53% of people who have received at least one dose. According to that data, 66% of the group were white, 9% were Latino, and 5% were Black.
One reason why some African Americans are hesitant to get the vaccine is systemic racism in the health care system, particularly the Tuskegee Study. In a study conducted by Kaiser and The Undefeated Black participants cited the infamous government-backed Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In 1932, without informed consent, the U.S. government performed studies on 600 Black men, 399 of whom had syphilis. They were told they were receiving free medical care, however, the goal of the study was to track the damage the disease does to the human body.
“The health care system has not been historically nice to African Americans,” said Melissa Lee, a volunteer at the clinic. “When you talk to the elders in the community, they have experienced unfriendly medical treatment. The idea of trusting the government with something so momentous like taking the vaccine comes with skepticism.”
While there has been hesitancy seen across the country, healthcare workers at the NAACP clinic have said that for the most part people are excited to get the vaccine.
“How many people got to die…Your loved ones, your neighbors your friends, how could you be hesitant [to get the vaccine]” said Judy Dunn, who came with her disabled brother to get vaccinated. She said she looked forward to getting vaccinated.
The lack of hesitancy seen at the clinics could be partially credited to Edson and his campaign to inform the community. While Edson himself was skeptical about the vaccines, he knew that it would save lives.
He helped organize outreach campaigns and invited doctors to host info sessions, to educate those who had fears of the vaccine. Even with his fears, Edson received the vaccine to lead by example.
“You have to represent as a leader,” Edson said. “I thought it was important.”
Edson thought of sending out fliers before the first pop-up clinic, but he was told that fliers would attract people trying to crash the vaccination site. He then got the word out the old fashion way, calling people and sending emails to the members of the NAACP branch.
“We have an incredible network of members,” said Edson. “Once we got the word out after our first clinic, word of mouth just spread. We have to turn away people now.”
Even though he has to turn away the occasional person trying to get the vaccine without an appointment, Edson is glad that he’s able to provide this service to the community.
“It’s one of the most rewarding things,” Edson said about providing vaccines. “We’re saving lives.”