Dr. Reed Tuckson laughs as he reads a tweet from his phone: “‘Once COVID is over’ is starting to sound a lot like ‘when Rihanna releases a new album.’”
The former commissioner of public health in Washington, D.C., isn’t just checking his Twitter feed, though. He’s reading tweets posted by Black people about COVID for a new public health campaign.
The humorous observations are entertaining, but for Tuckson and the Black Coalition Against COVID—which he co-founded—the tweets also serve as jumping off points for discussion in the new “Black Doctors Read COVID Tweets” effort.
Just now rolling out on social media, the tweet re-readings are the latest content in the coalition's COVID-19 advocacy work. The group of Black doctors, nurses and researchers began by getting the word out in the Black community about public health guidance and then started working to enroll people in vaccine trials. Now, they're answering questions about vaccines and encouraging vaccinations.
Tuckson and his team have done 13 town halls—four of them in just 10 days recently—for a wide variety of groups, from Black fraternities and sororities to rural Americans and minority health professional communities.
“The Black community, like any other community, is very heterogeneous and therefore you need a variety of tools to reach different population groups and really come at it in different ways,” Tuckson said.
Pharma can take some lessons from the effort—not only about what kind of messaging works, but also about how to build and maintain trust with the Black community.
When asked what advice he would give to pharma, Tuckson said, “The most important thing that they can continue to do now is enhance the trustworthiness of their relationship with the Black community.”
Future healthy relationships depend on vaccine makers, and drugmakers in general, understanding that they need to “have an overriding concern and interest and respect for the sanctity and the dignity of Black life," he said.
"That these companies really do understand that the ability for their products and their innovations to be well used by the Black community has to be tied very much to a sense that these companies can be trusted," he added. "That they have the interests of Black people at heart."
The Black doctors' Twitter readings—a gentler take on Jimmy Kimmel Live’s “Mean Tweets,” in which famous people read unkind posts about themselves—take real posts by Black people and build on them with medical information.
Tuckson reads another one: “Both my 70-something mom and a relative got asked out in the vaccine line. I’m telling you ppl are ready. This summer will be wild.”
As Tuckson smiles in the video, he agrees it will be a wild summer “if we can get everybody vaccinated. That’s the key. If we don’t, it’s going to be a wild summer for all the wrong reasons.”
Tuckson and BCAC’s message to the Black community is that it’s OK to ask questions and want more information, but it's also important to make sure the info is accurate.
"We’re trying to say to our community that it is OK to have questions, that it is OK to have doubts, and it is OK to be uncertain, but within that uncertainty and doubt, we as healthcare professionals, have an obligation to try to speak to you and make sure you're getting the facts," he said.