Philip Pannell uses positive COVID test to promote vaccine efficacy
As he has been doing for 40 years, Philippe Pannel rallied his commitment to DC’s right to self-government and took it from Anacostia to another rally for state and voting rights. He joined about 400 protesters last Saturday, Oct. 23, in front of the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon on New Jersey Ave NW, the stopgap for this phase of the 70-mile rally relay for voting rights and l ‘State of DC. Supporters had spent the summer demonstrating for, among other things, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. On that day, they also protested against the latest development in the denial of the vote saga: On Wednesday, October 20, Senate Republicans obstructed the Freedom to Vote Act, preventing the project to remove the restrictions. state-level voting and expanding access to voting.
Pannell, a longtime organizer and executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, was surrounded by other activists on Saturday when he collapsed at the memorial. He was taken to the nearest emergency room where a doctor informed him he had tested positive for COVID.
He was released from the hospital with a doctor’s order to isolate him for two weeks. But even in isolation, Pannell gathered the strength to attend ACC’s monthly virtual meeting where he used his experience to promote the vaccine.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks when the doctor told me this,” Pannell said at the ACC meeting. “Because first of all, I am fully vaccinated. I have been very careful about wearing masks when I am in confined spaces… Even being as careful as possible, I still contracted the virus.
Doctors said his vaccination status saved the 71-year-old man from needing a ventilator and possibly death. Forty-nine of the 50 DC residents who have died from COVID-19 since June were black, and 60% of them were from wards 7 and 8, DCist reported last week. Forty-two of them were not vaccinated. While breakthrough infections can occur even when people are completely vaxxed, the chances are much lower and the protections are much higher.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people who die from this disease are not vaccinated, so [the vaccine] already gives you a good shot “, Reed tucksonthe former DC public health commissioner said at the ACC meeting.
The isolation means Pannell’s plans to get the encore will have to wait, as will his tickets to the opening night of A chorus in her at the Anacostia Playhouse, and her trip to accompany a colleague to the grocery store. But his work continues.
“Please everyone spread the word [to] get vaccinated, ”he said at the ACC meeting. “If I hadn’t been vaccinated, the doctor made it very clear that… the situation could have been much worse.”
Pannell’s ally in his quest to promote the COVID vaccine for residents of wards 7 and 8 is Stuart anderson, another longtime community organizer whose vaccination campaign efforts City paper chronicled. Communities east of the Anacostia River, plagued by poverty and health care gaps, have struggled with COVID vaccination rates since the vaccine became widely available in the district. Anderson’s team of COVID vaccine ambassadors was funded by a city grant that expired on September 30. Pannell says he still hopes the funds will be replenished for more direct outreach. Ambassadors have spent months going door-to-door and chatting with hesitant neighbors about vaccines on front steps, in corners and in cars. They were battling the main obstacle to protecting residents of Ward 7 and 8: a deep hesitation about vaccines largely informed by the medical mistreatment of blacks. Tuckson lamented the ingrained and incorrect belief Anderson describes in young black men in particular: that the vaccine is there to kill them.
“There is a Balm of Gilead, and it’s called the Anacostia Coordinating Board,” Tuckson said at the ACC meeting. “We need to be there for each other and continue to support each other emotionally. “
The perseverance of the crew gradually paid off. While large disparities in immunization rates persist, rates in wards 7 and 8 have increased slightly. But Anderson says his team of three has a long way to go “when you look at the fact that 40% of the population in Ward 8 is still unvaccinated, [when] we are here everyday doing the job, [and] we always hear the same things.
Anderson laughs as he recalls their hardest-to-convince residents, some of whom ultimately became their best vaccine ambassadors. On triumphant occasions, they walked or drove residents to vaccination sites. He continued the slow fight, armed with strategies he trained his team on over the summer – tapping into your personal experiences, approaching again and again people who are hesitant to vaccinate.
The most recent phase of the battle is approaching. Winter is approaching and Anderson says he will have to move from in-person outreach to phone banking. Anderson will also be calling the people his team has helped get vaxxed to promote getting recalls now that they are more widely available in the DC area. The Food and Drug Administration last week approved the third injections of the Moderna COVID vaccine following its clearance of Pfizer boosters for a larger segment of the population. Today, an FDA panel recommended emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, and the FDA is expected to clear it in the coming days. This will be another point of advocacy for the ACC.
“Sometimes we have to pull out and not win,” Anderson said. “But it’s not because we don’t try everything in the book. Then you walk away knowing you’ve tried everything, you’ve persisted.
–Ambar Castillo (advice? [email protected])
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