After nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, family caregivers - those who take care of people with special health conditions and are part of the family - have not been considered essential workers, as they do not receive vaccines, tests and protective equipment as a priority.
This situation has put them and the people they care for at risk, according to caregivers, specialists and leaders of the African-American community in California, during a media session held by Ethnic Media Services. They called for the work of these people, who are a fundamental part of the health care system, to be made more visible.
As the Omicron variant progresses by leaps and bounds and causes a greater number of COVID-19 infections, family caregivers increasingly feel tired and isolated.
Donna Benton, Ph.D., of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California, said that in the state alone, there are about five million of them, most of whom are in the care of senior citizens and are largely invisible to the health care system.
"When COVID-19 started, among all the people who were considered essential workers, family caregivers were not included. So, before we had vaccines, it was very difficult for caregivers, keeping their family and friends safe and secure, because usually caregivers are under 65, they're like in their 40s, and they were not prioritized for vaccines or personal protective equipment," he recalled.
Access to vaccines earlier this year and progress in their application has allowed these caregivers to get back out and take their patients to medical appointments, however, Omicron has again complicated matters, and once again this group has been left out of primary access to testing.
In light of this situation and the reluctance of many to get vaccinated, he called on the entire African-American and community of color to get vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
"Vaccines are a key weapon against the ravages of this virus," he said.
Benton noted that the mental health of these caregivers has also been impaired, due to fatigue from confinement, which has increased stress levels considerably.
To avoid this isolation, he said, "the caregiver and the person they are caring for must have access to testing. We have to make sure that the people who come to visit us are vaccinated. We have to make sure there are boosters and we still have to follow all the safety measures that keep us safe during the pandemic."
For Ruth Rembret, caregiver to her multiple myeloma-stricken husband, who is being treated with chemotherapy and has a compromised immune system, she said, "I can't even imagine either of them not being vaccinated."
Ruth knows that even a cold can have serious consequences for her husband's health, so she does not allow anyone into her home for fear of even minor infections.
"I don't allow anyone into my house who is not vaccinated, and even then, I insist that they wear a mask. People don't realize the danger they expose you to when they don't get vaccinated, or when they don't wear a mask, there is a lot of misinformation about it," said Rembret.
For Ruth, the vaccine is not up for discussion: it is a matter of life or death.
"I've heard people say, 'I don't want to put that in my body.' I tell them they have two choices. You can choose to get this vaccine in you, or you can choose to get formaldehyde in your veins, because that's how bad this is."
"We all want this to end, but it doesn't look like it's going to be anytime soon unless we take the importance of vaccines seriously."
The Rev. Noella Buchanan, caregiver coordinator for the Southern California Conference's African Methodist Episcopal Church Ministerial Alliance and retired pastor, began by caring for her mother-in-law, then her sister-in-law, moved on to her mother, then her husband, and currently her cousin who is over 100 years old.
Buchanan is well aware that it is not easy for the African-American community to trust the country's healthcare system, due to the history that marked the history of their race, such as the Tuskegee Experiment, so they are afraid to get vaccinated.
In view of this, he emphasized that it is necessary to inform the people who are going to be vaccinated that they may have side effects, however, in everyone it is different. In addition, they are warned that although it is true that the vaccine protects against the virus, it is not a fact that they will be infected with COVID-19.
However, "we have to share with them that those who are in the hospital right now and who are dying are, for the most part, those who have not received the vaccine."
Being a woman of faith and being the third generation of preachers in her family, she detailed that while it is true that she believes in the power of prayer and God, it is also true that "I also believe that God has opened a way for someone to come with the vaccine."
"We have to trust and part of our trust comes in what we are seeing: loved ones dying and who have not been vaccinated."
Buchanan called on the authorities to take action and bring the vaccines and tests to the homes, as many elderly people or people with medical conditions cannot wait two or three hours to receive their dose or take a test.
In this regard, he noted that churches are also a suitable distribution point, as the community trusts them.
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