AASA Hosts COVID-19 Panel

AASA Hosts COVID-19 Panel

Published February 23, 2021

The African American Shipbuilders Association (AASA) employee resource group hosted a virtual panel discussion for shipbuilders last week focused on COVID-19 and its impact on the African American community.

“I know many of you may have a lot of questions about the vaccine, and I hope you leave with the information you need,” AASA President Robin Lee (O53) told attendees.

More than 2,800 people – including shipbuilders, contractors and sailors – at Newport News Shipbuilding have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

While the virus has touched all communities, some – including African Americans – have been particularly hard hit.

Event panelist Dr. Ethlyn Gibson, an associate professor of nursing at Hampton University, said the effects of structural racism; the prevalence of comorbidities such as hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and asthma; and an initial lack of concern about the virus all play a role.

“It’s not just one simple thing, it’s a lot,” she said. “It’s going to take a village to make a change.”

With two approved vaccines being administered and a third on the horizon, Gibson and NNS Medical Director Dr. Steven Apostoles shared information about the clinical trials and encouraged shipbuilders to get vaccinated.

“It’s normal to be hesitant. But you want to move beyond hesitancy, gather your information and ask questions,” Gibson said, acknowledging historic roots that foster reluctance to vaccination among African Americans. “Even ask questions while you’re sitting in the chair to get the vaccine, but it’s very important to get the vaccine.”

Both doctors said they had been vaccinated and said shipbuilders shouldn’t get caught up trying to get one manufacturer’s version over another. “Whatever vaccine you have the opportunity to take, please take it because it truly can save lives,” Apostoles said.

During the event, Fernando Gaines (E63) and Tonita Jordan (O53) shared their personal COVID-19 stories. Gaines tested positive in December and experienced complications that led him to seek emergency medical care. Jordan lost her father to COVID-19 in January.

“Within the span of about two weeks, 16 of my family members were infected with COVID. Five of them ended up in the hospital – including my father. He fought for about two weeks in the hospital and ended up with COVID pneumonia,” Jordan said. “It really took a hard hit on my family. We have to be really careful and make sure that we’re following the guidelines to be safe and keep others safe.”

To learn more, shipbuilders are encouraged to view “COVID-19 Vaccine and the Black Community: A Tyler Perry Special” on YouTube.