Power & Immunity

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

An informational guide for understanding immunization and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Protecting Black Communities

Developed in partnership with The Center for Black Health & Equity, this guide shares science-based information about the COVID-19 vaccine to help you make decisions and spark a conversations in your community.

Learn more about available COVID-19 vaccines by visiting Lung.org/vaccine-tracker.

National vaccination initiatives in the United States support the critical work of achieving health equity for African American, Indigenous, and other people of color. While this guide is not intended to be a persuasive tool, it has been developed to provide families and individuals with the information needed to explore concerns, answer questions, and start a conversation about general immunization and the COVID-19 vaccine.

The information you'll find here is a brief compilation of the vast information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other credible sources. It also features trusted Black voices and celebrates continued contributions in saving American lives.

Use this guide:

  • to supplement your own research on the vaccines;
  • to start a dialogue with your friends, physician, pastor and family members;
  • to share accurate information on social media;
  • to get to know the contributions of Black scientists and public health advocates who are helping to bring this pandemic to an end.

The most influential voices are often those closest to you. Use this guide to help keep one another accountable as you seek out the best information for making personal and community health decisions.

Black Americans across the U.S. have deepened our country's legacy of ingenuity, creativity and endurance. Yet social injustice like wealth gaps and health disparities continue to stifle the ability to secure legacies for your own families. Despite social and economic injustice, you continue to stand up for your personal wellbeing and that of the next generation. You are unafraid to call into question anything that threatens that legacy. You lean into skepticism and heed the wisdom that the past has taught you and you have been better for it.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the heroism of Black Americans has been called upon again. Recommended vaccines for the virus have emerged, and you are now charged with making a critically important decision about your health, immunization, and specifically vaccinating against the novel coronavirus. You are charged with choosing the best option for protecting both your wellbeing and legacy.  

Decisions about health, immunization, and new vaccines should never be unduly rushed without thorough investigation. The good news is that science-based information is available. 

The Center for Black Health & Equity is proud to partner with The American Lung Association to provide a guide that will help Black communities clarify scientific facts, answer key questions about vaccines, and make well-informed decisions for your health.

It is a little-known fact that Black Americans have progressed our country toward nationwide immunization since the early days. Most notably, a West African slave known as Onesimus was responsible for introducing the concept of inoculation to the U.S. in 1716. 

When smallpox was ravaging the city of Boston (and the world), Onesimus shared a practice from sub-Saharan Africa that could prevent the spread of the disease. He called it “an operation, which had given him something of the smallpox and would forever preserve him from it.” Onesimus said, “Whoever had the courage to use it was forever free of the fear of contagion." 

The “operation” to which Onesimus referred involved rubbing a little pus from an infected person into the broken skin of a healthy person. Introducing a small amount of the infection produced an immune response and effectively inoculated most participants against smallpox.

While this method is considered unethical by modern standards, the practice saved hundreds of lives and laid the foundation for the smallpox vaccine that followed 100 years later. 

  • 1716 – West African slave Onesimus shares method for inoculation
  • 1721 – Slaveholder Cotton Mather popularizes method decreasing death rate from 1 in 7 to 1 in 40
  • 1796 – Edward Jenner introduces smallpox vaccine
  • 1980 – World Health Organization declares smallpox first (and only) disease to be eradicated from the earth
  • 2016 – Boston Magazine names Onesimus “Best Bostonian of All Time”

Whenever a person is exposed to or infected with germs such as a coronavirus, their body will make use of germ-fighting tools like white blood cells to fight the infection. After exposure, the person's immune system remembers how to protect the body against that particular disease should it encounter it again. 

There are several kinds of vaccines. Some contain the same germs that cause disease; however, the germs have been weakened or deadened. Others contain either a harmless part of the germ or its genetic material (such as the synthetic messenger RNA used for some COVID-19 vaccines). 

A vaccine stimulates your immune system so that you produce the same antibodies you would make if you were exposed to the real disease. It helps your body learn to recognize and fight an invasion of a particular germ. Thus, you get to develop immunity to that disease without having to get the disease first.

Learn more about how vaccines work by visiting Lung.org/vaccines.

As some of the most trusted voices in Black American communities, faith leaders are often relied upon for guidance on very complex issues. When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines, faith leaders may be concerned about offering advice without having all the facts. These talking points are designed to support your desire to keep congregants well informed. While there is no need to persuade anyone to take action, it is helpful to address concerns and point them in the direction of accurate information. These may be used as conversation starters or as part of weekly announcements. 

For information about COVID-19, visit Lung.org/covid-19

For information about vaccination for COVID-19, visit Lung.org/vaccine-tracker.

The most influential voices are often those closest to home, gathered around the kitchen table sharing thoughts about life and current events. Our most trusted advisors are our grandmothers, our play cousins, and people we know personally. But unless an immunopathologist lives next door, those we know personally can often be ill-informed by unreliable social media memes and water­cooler hearsay. If you're that trusted voice for your friends and family, here are some simple responses to the tough COVID-19 vaccine conversations around the kitchen table. 

Q: I'm not going to be anyone's guinea pig and what about Tuskegee? 

Many communities of color distrust the vaccine and that can be hard to overcome. But those historical tragedies are a part of the reason that FDA regulations are so stringent now. It helps to know that people of color have given oversight to every part of the process. In fact, a Black female scientist co-led the development of recommended vaccines. 

Q: Don't you think they'll make a different vaccine for Black people? 

This would not be in anyone's best interest. An advantage of vaccinating as many people as possible is to achieve herd immunity. This happens when the majority of the population is vaccinated and the spread of the virus is reduced. Even if every White person in the U.S. were vaccinated, herd immunity would not be achieved if Black and Brown people were not also vaccinated. So it would not be rational to distribute different, less effective vaccines.

Human clinical trials are tests done in a clinical research setting to observe the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine. All clinical trials include a series of mandatory phases that must be completed before a vaccine can be approved for dissemination. Many are concerned that the clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine were rushed. This is not the case. 

Learn more about clinical trials by visiting Lung.org/vaccines

Becoming a Vaccine Ambassador

Vaccine receptivity is influenced by many factors, but none stronger than the influence of your family, friends and neighbors. As a Vaccine Ambassador in your community, here are a few ways you can help.

  • Share the reasons why you’re getting the COVID-19 vaccine in a short social media video or photo of you getting your shot. You can also download some social media images to use in your posts. Use the hashtag #PowerAndImmunity, and tag @BlackBodyHealth and @LungAssociation.
  • Share your story on your own websites, and in your local newsletters, newspapers and more.
  • Host a Zoom party!  Invite friends and family to have the discussion about making informed decisions using the Better For It toolkit

View more ways to help

COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker

As the trusted champion for lung health, the American Lung Association has science-based information to help you stay informed about the safety and availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Learn more

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Updates to the toolkit and assets will continue to be added to this page, so check back to get the latest information and stay up to date.

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