Dr. Monique Burton is the medical director of Sports Medicine at Seattle Children’s, Chair of the USA Track and Field Sports Medicine Science Committee, and a physician for the U.S. Track and Field team who will travel with the team to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Burton received a COVID-19 vaccine and documented her experience to share with athletes and the community at large. Here, she shares her understanding of vaccine hesitancy among people of color, and how she wants to provide the community with information and tools so they can make informed decisions for themselves.
Last year, when I learned a COVID-19 vaccine would soon be available, I wanted to learn more. I was inquisitive and perhaps even a little hesitant. This vaccine was different from the longstanding vaccines my children and I had previously received. If I was prescribed a new medication I wouldn’t hesitate to ask questions, and I approached this new vaccine the same way.
As a medical provider, I had access to scientific literature describing how the vaccines were developed, possible side effects, and who was included and represented in the clinical trials. I also had the privilege of discussing the vaccines with trusted colleagues who were doing similar research and shared their own findings.
One of those colleagues gave me the idea to share my experience of getting vaccinated with the athletes I care for and the community I serve.
Track and field, like many other sports, consists of a diverse population of athletes, including people who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color (BIPOC). Being aware of vaccine hesitancy that exists among people of color, I decided it would be valuable to share my first-hand experience with them.
As an African American physician and familiar face to my athletes and patients, I hope to be a trusted reference and someone they feel they can turn to. I do not want to tell people what they should do when making medical decisions, including the decision to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
I chose to get vaccinated, but I understand why others hesitate or are uncertain. The past year has been challenging, with the pandemic and racial tension in this country. Increased incidence of intolerance, hate and violence are some of the social determinants of health that underlie health disparities in our communities, including COVID-19 deaths.
There are legitimate historical and current reasons why people of color might be unsure about the vaccine. Those reasons deserve to be heard, understood and respected.
As healthcare professionals, it’s important we don’t undermine those concerns or expect patients to follow our recommendations merely because we have medical degrees.
Seattle Children’s is home to a diverse workforce and patient population. It’s important to understand there are many different perspectives and experiences that go into a person’s decision making. We have a tremendous opportunity to act intentionally and respectfully amidst this pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting people of color. We must use this opportunity to truly listen and honor where people are.
As medical providers, we have access to a lot of information that we sometimes need to decode to help our patients make informed decisions. It’s also important to recognize our patients have other sources of information. Whether we regard those sources to be credible or not, we should acknowledge that they are accessible and influential.
By documenting and sharing my vaccination, I hope to serve as a medical resource, a community advocate and an ambassador for science, data, health, wellness, trust and transparency.
I will do whatever I can to help bring this pandemic to a close, relieve the burden on our healthcare system and honor the commitments and sacrifices of healthcare workers and healthcare leaders. I also want my patients, athletes and community to know they have a dedicated physician who will champion their needs, listen thoughtfully, fight to eliminate disparities and never stop amplifying their voices. I hope my actions can be one piece of that larger process.