Nurse Makes It Her Mission to Get People Vaccinated

Joyce Christian and her husband will with their grandchildren. Source: Catholic News Service

Like many healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Joyce Christian of Somerville, Tennessee, was elated to hear the news of vaccine breakthroughs that could help end the pandemic.

After long work days, crowded emergency rooms, and not enough beds in ICUs, Joyce saw the vaccines as a way of helping communities return to a level of normalcy.  Joyce made it her mission as an African American nurse to serve as a trusted voice discussing vaccine safety and efficacy with her friends. She has been on a mission ever since to get members of her family and community vaccinated.

Responding to the need to reach underrepresented communities like her own, Christian understands why many people of color are hesitant about trusting the healthcare system.  Her father, Freddie Lee Tyson, was unknowingly a part of the U. S. Public Health Services Syphilis Study at Tuskegee in Alabama.

Throughout the duration of the study hundreds of rural Black men were unknowingly infected with syphilis in the 1930s and under the guise of receiving treatment were used as human subjects to examine the effects of syphilis on human subjects.

However, in addition to past experiences, Christian noted that present ongoing negative experiences with medical professionals actively contribute to this mistrust – despite new laws in place designed to protect all patients.

Seeking to narrow the gaps in vaccines, Christian has one simple message: Don’t be afraid to take the vaccine.

Sympathetic to many people who are vaccine hesitant, Christian reminds her friends and family, “Black and brown people are dying most.”

She said her father felt bad for all the people who were in the study and that did not know they were being used in that way. It was important to him that people know that this happened.

Despite not being Catholic, when local Dominican nuns recruited children to go to a nearby Catholic school that was being constructed her parents sent her and her siblings.

“We saw them pray. When I was in high school, I would stop by the basilica and pray to Mary for her guidance,” Christian said.

Eventually, the family began attending mass on Sunday mornings and afternoons at their parent’s church.

Commenting on the role faith has played in shaping her life, Christian said, “Faith has always been a big part of my life, I have survived a lot of things,” she added in an interview from her front porch. “The Holy Spirit was always guiding me.”

Christian is using the tenacity she learned as an Air Force nurse during Vietnam based in the Philippines at Clark Air Base, then a U.S. military base, during the Vietnam War, to educate and help get people of color vaccinated. 

“Our father taught us to be a family and he wanted us to stay strong in our faith and persevere,” Christian said. A community advocate and trusted voice, Christian won’t stop until all communities have access to COVID vaccines and the opportunity to get vaccinated and make informed healthcare decisions that are appropriate for their families.

Source: Catholic News Service