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Anatomy of a health conundrum: The racial gap in vaccinations in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — Chidinma Nwakanma walked out the doors of the emergency room into the stillness of a Saturday morning. Her overnight shift had been a swirl of activity, but rest would have to wait as there was one more task at hand for the physician: a community vaccination clinic set to start in about 60 minutes.

In the hours before at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, she’d encountered the trauma and travails that are the currency of the ER: A patient had abruptly stopped talking and slumped over, cancer blocking her nasal passages. There was a man struggling to breathe, a problem that had persisted for nearly two months. A 25-year-old with fever and chills. An 81-year-old who passed out in front of her family. And because it has become part of Nwakanma’s routine when gathering information about a patient’s presenting illness, the same as questions about abdominal and chest pain, she asked them: Have you received the coronavirus vaccine?

As always, the answers were mixed, the reasons varied.

The 81-year-old, who was hypertensive and previously suffered a stroke, happily reported she had been inoculated. But her grandson, in his 30s and in the room with her, laughed at the thought, explaining that he didn’t want to suffer the aches and pains common after injection like his grandmother did. Nwakanma told him that when his grandmother got the shot, her fever and chills disappeared a day later.

“So, I should get it?” he asked.

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