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California Surgeon General Says State is ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ in Efforts to Reopen by June 15

Black woman with long hair and orange turtleneck in front of framed artwork
“The benefits of getting the vaccine far, far exceed the risks,” says Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the California surgeon general.

By Keisa Reynolds

Over 45% of Black Americans in California have been fully or partially vaccinated against COVID-19. But the fight isn’t over. State officials and community leaders urge Black communities to spread awareness about vaccination. 

On May 3, experts on the COVID-19 pandemic in California spoke during a media briefing on the public health guidelines and importance of vaccination among the state’s Black communities. The briefing was hosted as part of the “Getting Smarter on COVID-19” series. 

California intends to lift most remaining COVID-19 restrictions June 15. Whether that happens depends on adequate vaccine supply and low hospitalization rates. The state has the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation, according to California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. 

“We’re moving forward. We are cautiously optimistic. California, we are at record low rates in terms of our infectivity rate,” said Burke Harris. 

She credits the vaccinations for the progress, which will be maintained if vaccination rates continue to improve. 

Four million vaccinations administered in California went to communities hit hardest by COVID-19, according to David Tucker, senior external affairs officer for the California Department of Public Health. 

Many Black Californians continue to have reservations about getting the vaccine, however. Additionally, many people question whether or not Black people were involved in conversations regarding the vaccine. 

>>>Read: ‘Time Will Always Tell’: Doctor Addresses Coronavirus Vaccine Concerns

“I want everyone to do their research,” Tucker said. 

He assured people that “Black and Brown women and men were part of the trials,” including the clinical trial for the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Distribution of the Janssen vaccine was paused April 13 after cases of rare clotting were discovered. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S Food and Drug Administration have since recommended the vaccine

“We recognize that this temporary pause caused some concerns but the pause demonstrated that the extensive vaccine monitoring safety systems in the U.S are working,” Tucker said. 

Burke Harris confirmed that the side effects of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are very rare. 

“The halt is the system working exactly the way it should,” she said. 

The surgeon general received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine herself. She encourages people to make an informed decision and says people feeling good about their chosen vaccine is what is most important. 

“Looking at the risk, doing a deep evaluation on both the individual level and population level, the benefits of getting the vaccine far, far exceed the risks,” said Burke Harris.

Over 12.7 million people in the state are fully vaccinated. That’s more than 30% of California’s population. This keeps the state on track to fully reopen its economy next month. 

Indoor gatherings and events can resume with modifications, according to the California Department of Public Health. Lifted restrictions would allow workplaces and schools to reopen. Vaccinated Californians could spend more time with loved ones without masks or a six-foot distance. 

“As an advocate, as a person who loves the community, as a pastor who wants to connect with his people, it’s very, very important that we, the faith community, rise and come together to push the importance of the vaccination,” said Pastor K.W Tulloss from the Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

Leaders of the faith community have organized an awareness campaign called “Shot of Faith” to educate parishioners. Tulloss urges people not to be afraid of the shot and believes it is a path to normalcy. 

“It is a very personal choice,” said Tara Lynn Gray, director of California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate. 

“But I think that we have to be realistic about the devil we know, the devil we don’t know,” Gray continued. “We know that the disease is killing our people, that we can be certain of. The data is in on that. We also know that millions have been vaccinated and are still alive.”

>>>Read: ‘The Vaccine Is Not the Best Option, but It Is the Only Option’

Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic economically and medically, according to Gray. Her office is now in round six of the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, which is part of the state’s efforts to grant over $2 billion to small businesses. 

“We have come a really long way since the beginning of this pandemic,” said Burke Harris.

She reiterated that getting vaccinated is what will allow the state to safely reopen businesses and keep them open. She shared her feelings of hope after being able to hug a friend after the two vaccinated adults went on a walk.

“I’m hoping that Californians are feeling that sense of hope and excitement as we are getting back to doing some of the things that we missed doing for a really long time,” Burke Harris said. 

Interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccination? Anyone 16 years old and over can go to for available appointments.

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