Vaccines and US

Mama Linda’s Friends: A Vaccination Conversation

Mama Linda GossThe Peale

Mama Linda Goss, the Storyteller-in-Residence since 2017 at the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture in Maryland, is a griot and performer in the African diasporic oral tradition. She is a co-founder of the National Association of Black Storytellers, which works to preserve folk traditions. Mama Linda was born in 1947 and has made Baltimore her home since 1975.

As in many communities, COVID-19 and vaccination have been topics of discussion in Mama Linda’s circle of family and friends, many of whom are also griots. At the invitation of the Peale, several of Mama Linda’s friends agreed to provide their perspectives on vaccination in a recorded conversation. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, gathering in one place was not possible, so the group gathered on Zoom, many calling in from phones.

Listen to a sample of the conversations listed by each person's first name.



I count myself blessed to had received my second shot this week. And my story is that growing up in the colored community back in the '30s, I grew up getting shots. I remember getting vaccinated for smallpox. I remember getting shots for the polio shot – that was the big one. And we had Black doctors in my community, I had a family doctor that I knew. So, I always trusted the medical community that I grew up in and so I just didn't question getting the shot. I think that the best way I can take care of myself at the age of 88, with COPD and high blood pressure, is to protect myself the best way that I can. And I felt, when they offered us the vaccine, that CVS came in and gave us... And by the way, I had two pharmacists: The first one was an African American man, Alex. He was wonderful. And the second young woman who came for the second shot, I just felt like I was in good hands. So, here I am today. I have no after-effects.



I got my first shot yesterday and it went very well. The person who gave it to me was good. She didn't hurt any unusual, and I have not had any ill effects from the shot. And I think that people ought to be taking them because I just don't quite understand why you don't try to keep yourself well. Now, my birthday is October the 2nd, 1922. That makes – that'll make me 98 years old this year.









So along with my mother, I also agree that it's a good thing for those who can, that they take the vaccine. We know as African Americans that there have been medical experiments in the past that have affected the African American community in a negative way. I grew up in Baltimore, I am in my 60s now. I had relatives that lived in East Baltimore near Johns Hopkins Hospital and we've all heard them and others have fears about what was happening at Johns Hopkins. And one of those things that parents would do to scare their children... African American parents who lived in East Baltimore would scare their children and say: “They're gonna get you from Johns Hopkins and use you for an experiment.” So, we know these kinds of things have happened to the African American community, but now we also know that we have African Americans who are involved in the medical field and that are being sure that these kinds of things that have happened in the past are not happening now.



I don't intend to take the vaccine for a while. I'm gonna see what happens in the community and hopefully everyone who has taken that vaccine will be well and do well, but I'm gonna wait. And I'm waiting for a couple of reasons. First, the majority population here... Well, they're not actually in the majority so much now – but they have not looked out for the black folk in this country – and I mention the Tuskegee, what they did down at the Tuskegee Institute – but there have been other instances where we have been experimented on. We have not been told exactly what would happen to us while we were being experimented on, and sometimes, without any kind of medication to help with the pain. I think that we need to be careful about what we take and how we take it when it's presented to us by people who have not always had our best interests at heart. I have been offered that vaccine by the VA. They called me and offered me the vaccine, and my position is, I will wait a while and see what happens.



I have had the Pfizer vaccine. My first shot – my arm hurt. I took two Tylenol and after that, I had no problem. The second dose I received, which was 21 days later, I had no problems at all. My arm didn't hurt, nothing. I had no problems. Some of the apprehension that people have, I truly do understand, but there is a listing of what ingredients are inside of the vaccine and one of the things that people need to be aware of is that this vaccine does not make any changes to your DNA, and there are no tracking devices within the vaccine.

One of the individuals that helped to create the vaccine was an African American woman, who was a doctor, and I'm very proud of the fact that she was involved in the development of this vaccine.



I've been straddling the fence for the last three months as to whether or not I'd like to have that type of injection in my body. Someone with a lot of underlying health issues, and I'm just about 60 years old and I've had several surgeries, so I'm considered as high risk. So at this time, the reason why I'm straddling the fence and kinda on the fence about it is because I'm not sure if I'm ready to put anything else in my body that's foreign to me, considering I've had so many other things going on. I've tried to read and listen and read and listen, but it's still – to me – I don't feel like there's enough evidence for me to allow them to give me an injection of something that I'm not ready for.



We haven't been able to get the shot, that's my only problem. We're waiting. We have registered. When I say we, I'm talking about my wife, Linda, and my daughter, and my son. We've registered, but we're waiting. If I had a chance to get the shot – or when I get a chance to get the shot – I'm going to get the shot. And this is why: I know very well about the experiments that have been put upon African Americans and poor people in this country, and it's horrible. But I'll tell you something else that's horrible: 500,000 deaths, which is more than the combined totals of people killed in World War I, II, Korea, and Vietnam put together. That's horrible. And so you take a risk.



COVID has affected our own family. I have lost an aunt to COVID, and one of my children had COVID. Thankfully, he recovered from it, but it was a very rough experience for him. So I do understand the devastating effects of this virus. However, I am extremely skeptical about the vaccine. It was worrisome to me from the beginning as to how quickly they came up with the vaccine. And no one seems to be talking about the long-term side effects.



The reason why I'm going to get the vaccine is because I would like to protect myself, I wanna do it to protect my family, and to protect my community. My experience with COVID has been a personal one; my husband had the virus, and thankfully he recovered. But I cannot describe to you the terror and the fear that I felt when I found out that he had COVID. It was just twofold, it's like you're worrying about your loved one, you're worried about yourself, and you're worried about your family, about any type of exposure. Fortunately, I tested negative, I do not have the virus, but just that period of time – and waiting – just wondering, you know, just the unknown was completely terrifying.



Mama Linda (00:00):
Brother Bill Starks.

Bill Starks (00:02):
Yes, Mama Linda.

Mama Linda (00:05):
Yes, Brother Bill.

Bill Starks (00:06):

Mama Linda (00:07):
You have a story to share with us?

Bill Starks (00:09):
Well, about the virus itself, not yet. Except that I'm still on the waiting list to be called in to receive the vaccine. I'm out here in Baltimore County with Momma Gwen-

Mama Linda (00:25):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bill Starks (00:26):
... But I guess her living status gives her a little hands up on me (laughs), a leg up on me (laughs), 'cause here, we can't get it yet. So, we're looking at the possibility of getting some this coming weekend. And, hopefully, that will transpire.

Bill Starks (00:43):
Otherwise, the virus has really, really hampered us as far as how we get to see our friends and do the things that we would normally do in the public. I didn't go to restaurants that much, but I'm sure that there are a number of people who do go to restaurants fairly regularly and cannot do that now. So, I hope that that will be remedied very quickly by the end of this year. We'll be looking forward to being able to get back to what we consider a more normal phase of life.

Bill Starks (01:21):
I'm afraid we will, however, be wearing masks for quite some time. One of the things that we're concerned about after receiving the vaccine is, of course, how long it will be effective. We don't yet know that. We know that the flu shots are required every year. This virus is similar to the virus that causes flu. So, we hope that we won't have to have shots any more regularly than once a year. But, I've had my flu shot and my pneumonia shot. I've had the second pneumonia shot now, so I pray that I'm pretty well up to date on that. And that I will not be affected at all, personally, by the virus.

Bill Starks (02:08):
Unfortunately, I did lose a high school classmate of mine in fact, last year, who was on dialysis. And apparently in being transported to and from the dialysis center, he contracted the virus and died from it. So, that's all I know right now about the virus, and fortunately no one in my family has been affected by it. So, we pray God's blessings upon us all.