When it comes to fighting the coronavirus, COVID-19 vaccination rates in Black and Brown communities are lower than other regions, experts say. That’s a cold, blunt and stark reality. However, that’s not stopping advocates from identifying the barriers that are keeping those vaccination rates lower.

Racial inequity is a large, nebulous idea that hangs over many issues. And under that fog of inequalities are specific reasons that can be solved with specific solutions like increased transportation and more diversity of languages spoken in the county.

Overcoming those barriers was the central focus of a virtual panel discussion entitled “COVID-19 Straight Talk: The Race to Immunity” recently hosted by LA Voice, a multi-racial, multi-faith community organization.

LA Voice prides itself on helping to awaken people to their own power, through training and education to community members so they can organize together and ultimately transform L.A. County.

Moderated by Rev. James K McKnight from The Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship, panelists were hyper focused on where we are currently in the vaccination process in communities like South Los Angeles. Also, what’s being done to continue educating leery residents, especially in light of the recent Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause in the City of Los Angeles and L.A. County.

Doctors said it is natural to have questions and they are happy to answer them with scientific answers.

“Of course, it is okay to be afraid, we are human. But it’s not okay to spread misinformation,” said Dr. Illan Shapiro-Strygler, Medical

Director of Health Education and Wellness for AltaMed. “(But) now we can start doing something proactively to save our community.”

Shapiro-Strygler said when it comes to misinformation, it is important to note that none of the vaccines actually have COVID-19 inside them.

Instead, Dr. David Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science said the vaccines give your body a blueprint on how to protect itself from the coronavirus.

Carlisle added that although wearing a mask and social and physical distancing will continue to be important, vaccination is the only answer, especially in South Los Angeles.

“The rates of death from COVID-19 can be up to eight times higher in South Los Angeles, compared to other parts of Los Angeles,” said Carlisle. “Now we have a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s called immunization… immunization is the best response to COVID-19 right now.”

Supervisor Holly Mitchell said it is time to shift the community conversation from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine reluctancy. Mitchell believes there is a subtle, yet important difference.

“We’ve been working to make sure our communities have been seen and heard,” said Mitchell. “I want to talk about vaccine access.”

Community members like Irma Hill said it was important for her to take control of her own health. That’s why she did months of personal research and reflection.

“I did my own research,” said Hill, who participated in the virtual LA Voice panel and added that she also relied on her own doctors and members of her own church to decide if the vaccine was right for her. “I think it is important for people to get vaccinated.”

Ultimately, panelists agreed that trusted messengers, plus easy vaccine access will save Black and Brown lives in Los Angeles County.

“My favorite shot is the one that goes in your shoulder,” Shapiro-Strygler concluded.