As a daughter of the city of Tuskegee, I embrace her proud history. Tuskegee Institute, now University, the prolific George Washington Carver and the legacy of the courageous Tuskegee Airmen are among the first topics that I’m asked about when I meet people who are not from the area. Some people even ask if I know Lionel Richie, which always makes me smile. Invariably, conversations turn to another, less welcome topic, the shameful Tuskegee Syphilis Study that remains a scourge on my beloved hometown. Lately, the Study is being talked about in news reports as the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on people of color increases.

With the recent news of emergency authorization for two COVID-19 vaccines, I’ve thought a lot about the weight of history and the skepticism and distrust for the healthcare industry that lingers in the African American community. As a registered nurse with Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS), I wonder how willing Veterans from my community will be to trust and take advantage of the promising, potentially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine that is being offered at our facility.

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In-mid December, VA launched a phased plan to vaccinate Veterans who reside in community living centers and employees with the goal to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated. CAVHCS received its initial shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and began vaccinating on December 22.

As I’ve weighed the pros and cons of the vaccine and what saying yes or no could mean, I say with certainty that I will get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. While I understand the vaccine does not guarantee that I will not become infected, it lowers the risk of getting infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Though I no longer live in Tuskegee, my commitment to the city runs deep as my octogenarian parents, whom I care for, still live in the community. As a wife, mother, health care professional and neighbor, getting the vaccine is only one way I’m looking out for the well-being of the Veterans I serve, my family and the residents of my childhood home.

After being vaccinated, I will continue to wear a mask, wash and sanitize my hands frequently and keep appropriate distance as recommended by the CDC. I urge Veterans and everyone in my hometown to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines to make an informed decision about being vaccinated against the coronavirus.

VA has online resources with information about the COVID-19 vaccines. Veterans who are interested in being vaccinated should call CAVHCS at 800-214-8387.

Cheryl Owens is a registered nurse with Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System