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How The Recording Academy & the Dept. of Health And Human Services Teamed Up To Address COVID-19 Vaccines and a Return to Live Music
On June 11, the Recording Academy and the Department of Health and Human Services partnered on a We Can Do This LIVE Twitter Spaces discussion on vaccines, safety, and a return to live music. The Recording Academy’s Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Valeisha Butterfield Jones hosted the event, which also featured White House Senior Policy Advisor for COVID-19 Equity Dr. Cameron Webb, who represented the Biden Administration.
As part of Black Music Month and the White House’s Month of Action in June, this event was geared specifically to Black Americans with a focus on the under-40 demographic. The goal was to host an open forum offering authentic and transparent expertise, personal perspective, and highlight a path forward to resume live music following nearly 18 months of shuttered venues and canceled tours.
The panel focused on the positive side of vaccines and their role in getting “back to normal,” particularly when it comes to live music—vaccines are the best way to defeat the virus and get back to safely attending concerts, gathering with family and friends, indoor dining, weddings, sporting events, and travel. Webb, who treated COVID-19 patients throughout the pandemic, broke down in layman’s terms the science behind the vaccines, how they work, what they do inside your body, and their effectiveness in combatting the virus.
Webb also acknowledged, without judgment, many Black Americans’ trepidation about getting the shot, especially with still-fresh memories of experimental medical procedures inflicted on these communities throughout American history. (To say nothing of the fact that COVID-19 disproportionately affected people of color.)
“The scars of that are very visible, and there are contemporary injustices in places all over this country,” Webb noted, citing racist atrocities like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which withheld lifesaving treatment for Black men. “I want to be very clear: People are right to say, ‘Hey, it hasn’t been fair for Black bodies here in the United States when it comes to health.’ That is a verifiable truth.”
While Webb expressed deep compassion about these concerns, he tried to steer listeners’ perception of the COVID-19 vaccines as being an agent to stop the next Tuskegee Syphilis Study, not bring it on again. “One of the things that’s a way for us to prevent COVID is the vaccines,” he said.
“That’s something that we want to make sure isn’t withheld from us. It’s so important that we have access,” Webb continued. “That’s the legacy of what we’ve learned from Tuskegee, is that we won’t stand by and watch our community have lifesaving interventions withheld from our community the way it happened in Tuskegee. That’s why we’re fighting for folks to have access to vaccines.”
Furthermore, Webb noted the Black representation in the development of the vaccines—not only in the (voluntary) test subjects, but in the pool of researchers who developed them and the members of the Food and Drug Administration who approved them. “If you look at how representative the trials were, more than 10% of the participants were Black,” he said. “In some studies, up to 40% were from communities of color.”
And because of their willingness to serve the cause of science, the vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and other companies have caused deaths in communities of color to plummet.
“They are creating a pathway back toward normalcy,” Webb said. “They’re allowing grandparents to survive this pandemic, to see their grandbabies grow up, and that’s what we want to see through this … If communities of color are less vaccinated today, they will see more deaths tomorrow, as this pandemic goes on.”
For the music community, the pathway back toward normalcy depends on vaccine rates and acceptance—the more people who get vaccinated, the faster we can get back to seeing concerts, which are already trickling back. Owner and developer of D.C.’s famed Howard Theatre Roy “Chip” Ellis, also spoke during the We Can Do This LIVE event, in which he enthused that times have been rocky over the past year and change—but they can’t wait to open their doors again.
Many venues, like the Howard, struggled without audiences for the duration of the pandemic, but hope is on the horizon with vaccinated audiences and a resumption of live music. Additionally, billions of dollars in federal support are beginning to trickle out to venues in need as part of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program—an unprecedented relief program that the Recording Academy helped pass into law at the end of 2020.
With vaccine numbers continue to increase and concert calendars filling up for later this summer and into the fall, Webb and Butterfield Jones wrapped the Twitter Spaces on an optimistic note as they reminisced about the best concert they’ve attended (Jay-Z in Chicago for Webb), and named their personal “bucket lists” for shows they can’t wait to see in a post-COVID future (Usher in Vegas for Butterfield Jones).