Chief medical officer writes personal letter to address vaccine hesitancy

Dr. Stanley Lynch knows the numbers. The chief medical officer of UnitedHealthcare’s Community Plan of Florida said he’s extremely concerned by how the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the African American and Latino communities.

Reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the disproportionate rates of hospitalization and even death among these communities — typically two to three times more than those who are white.

A doctor's hands on a computer A doctor's hands on a computer

These populations are also more likely to be essential workers and unable to work at home. As a result, they tend to have a higher risk of being exposed to the virus. In addition, pre-existing comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and barriers to accessing health care often worsen the effects of COVID-19 and result in more severe illness and higher death rates in these communities.

As an African American physician who sees the vaccine hesitancy among this high-risk group and who knows the science, Dr. Lynch felt compelled to do something. He put pen to paper and wrote a heart-felt letter to UnitedHealthcare members highlighting facts supporting the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.

In the letter Dr. Lynch said, “Like you I am very disturbed and saddened by the impact COVID-19 has had on our country and particularly communities of color, such as the African American and Latino communities. As tragic as that is, it is even more heartbreaking that recent surveys have shown a high level of reluctance within our communities to receive the vaccine when it is available for widespread distribution.”

Dr. Lynch’s letter listed several facts about the COVID-19 vaccines to help dispel myths and increase acceptance of the medical breakthrough, including:

  • The vaccine was developed very fast but only because it was so desperately needed.
  • It was developed following the same scientific principles that have guided vaccine development for the last 70 years.
  • A patient cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccines because the vaccine does not contain the virus.

Dr. Lynch concluded the letter by saying he would take the vaccine when it was his turn and has done so since the initial letter was distributed. Vaccinations have improved the disparities over time, but Dr. Lynch reminds all communities to not let their guards down.

He concludes the letter saying, “By (getting the vaccine) you are protecting yourselves as well as your families and members of your community. This is ultimately an act of love as the only way we will overcome this crisis is TOGETHER.” 

As of June 7, 2021, according to the CDC:

  • 12.5% of the U.S. population is African American but 11.3% of all COVID-19 cases and 13.7% of all COVID-19 deaths have come from the Black community.
  • 18.5% of our country’s population is Latino but this ethnic group accounts for 28.8% of reported COVID-19 cases and 18.6% of all deaths.
  • Comparatively, White/Non-Hispanics account for 60.1% of the population but 50% of cases and 59% of deaths.

It may be progress, but there’s still a long way to go, Dr. Lynch said. He and his colleagues continue to seek opportunities to educate and encourage people to get vaccinated – so that we all can enjoy each other once again.