Why I got the COVID-19 vaccine

Dee Johnson, director of the Witness Project, received her vaccine to fight COVID-19.
Pictured: Dee Johnson, Director of the Witness Project (right), received the vaccine to fight COVID-19.

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center started offering frontline employees the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in mid-December. Each person had special reasons for rolling up their sleeve to get the shot; here are some of their stories. 

Dwayne Smith, right, a phlebotomist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, receives his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Phlebotomist Dwayne Smith was the first African American to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Roswell Park.

Dwayne Smith, phlebotomist: My first thoughts go to my family. I want to be able to protect them. I have a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old and a wife at home. It was important to get the vaccine to make sure that they’re going to be safe because of what I do at work in close proximity with our patients. I want to be able to help protect everyone from this nasty pandemic. 

Getting the vaccine — if other African Americans see that I’ve done it, hopefully they’ll follow suit. If we want to get back to our kids playing football and basketball, if we want our kids back in school, we all have to do our part to try and get rid of this pandemic. Part of that is getting the vaccine. 

I would not hesitate to do it again if we had to. 

Dee Johnson, Director, The Witness Project: I was afraid, to be honest. There were all kinds of rumors. Medical mistrust is real in the community and the minority community has faced its challenges with inequities like the Tuskegee experiments in the past, and I needed to know that the new vaccines were tested and developed in an ethical way.

I asked if minorities participated in the Pfizer and Moderna trials. When I learned that 27,000 minorities were involved, that eased my mind. I learned that Pfizer and Moderna made the vaccine on their own, and that it was made so quickly because they were working on a similar vaccine before. 

Before getting the vaccine, I had to pray, because that’s my foundation, and fear is not of God. You can’t just talk about it in our community; you have to be about it. You can’t just talk the talk and not walk the walk, because our people will hold you accountable. We have to be agents of change.

I have one brother, three sisters and an 80-year-old mother. We started talking about the vaccine when they were developing it. They’re all going to get it. I am more enthusiastic now than ever about it. I want everyone to get it. I want to make sure I’ve got information to share with people who are uncertain. Providing people with education and informing them will allow them to make their own decisions — I think that works. People should be educated and empowered. 

Elisa Rodriguez, PhD, MS
Elisa Rodriguez, PhD, MS, received her COVID-19 vaccine to help protect her family and the community.

Elisa Rodriguez, PhD, MS, Director of Community Engagement Resource, Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, and Department of Cancer Prevention and Control: Black and brown communities, Hispanics and African Americans have had the highest rates in terms of health disparities and deaths from this pandemic. The numbers are astronomical. 

I wanted to get it as a point of protection for my family. That’s a big thing with the Hispanic community: family. We see that COVID has been impacting families. People are losing their loved ones. Getting the vaccine is a way to protect so we don’t have to have our families experiencing that loss. 

I wasn’t afraid to get the vaccine. I work on the research side and have done some work around vaccinations, which has allowed me to understand more of the process and how the system works for the FDA. 

I felt confident because of the way vaccines are tested and the work that happens on the front end to say they’re safe enough to administer. 

Part of making an informed decision is asking questions. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and on social media. I’ve seen young people who are posting videos, twitching and saying it’s from the vaccine, like it’s a joke. People, for whatever reason, are very influenced by things they see on social media. We need to encourage people to get information from credible sources, like your healthcare provider. Have a talk with your primary care clinician or the credible partners we work with. Even our faith-based partners are working with us to make sure their communities get the right information. 

There needs to be opportunities for communities to have a thoughtful conversation in order to feel a level of comfort and confidence in the vaccine. 

The whole world, the entire globe, came together to focus on developing this vaccine because it is impacting everyone, worldwide. You can make things happen faster than when people have to work on their own. That makes a difference. There were so many resources available, and people were already working on a vaccine for this type of virus before; it wasn’t like they just started researching COVID when the pandemic began. The processes to create these vaccines have been in place for a long time. There are experts behind it. 

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