Kareem Abdul-Jabbar supports some NBA players jumping COVID-19 vaccine line to raise awareness

Jason Owens
·3 min read

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the NBA documented his COVID-19 vaccination to raise awareness of vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

Now, he wants young, healthy NBA players to do the same.

In a guest column for the New York Times headlined “We Should Let Some NBA Players Jump the Vaccine Queue,” Abdul-Jabbar laid out the case for high-profile players taking the vaccine before it’s available to the general public.

In short, he sees value in influential NBA stars encouraging skeptical members of Black communities to get vaccinated. The 73-year-old Hall of Famer, who received his vaccination on schedule because of his age, cited LeBron James and Stephen Curry as players who could make a difference in a vaccine campaign.

‘Communities most in need of persuasion’

“NBA, players, 81.1 percent of whom are Black, appeal to the under-35 and African-American demographics,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. ... “Of course, I would like to see the NBA season in full swing, with all the players safely inoculated, but not at the expense of those whose lives are in immediate danger.

“The exception: those receiving the shots as part of a sustained campaign to bring vaccination awareness to communities most in need of persuasion.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks at The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Stand Up To Cancer discussion on the importance of cancer research at Cannon House Office Building on March 17, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar laid out his case for how NBA players can help in the fight to eradicate COVID-19. (Paul Morigi/WireImage)

Why awareness is emphasized in Black communities

Black Americans are disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus in terms of infection rates and health consequences after contracting COVID-19.

According to the CDC, Black Americans are 1.4 times more likely to contract COVID-19, 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized by the virus and 2.8 times more likely to die from the illness than their white counterparts. Socioeconomic status, access to health care and increased exposure to the coronavirus related to occupation play a role in the increased risk, per the CDC.

Skepticism and distrust of vaccines among Black Americans further exacerbates the potential impacts of the pandemic in Black communities, which have historically been underserved by the American health care system.

Tuskegee experiment still looms large

Abdul-Jabbar cited the infamous Tuskegee experiment carried out by the U.S. Public Health Service in the 20th century that saw health officials lie to Black men participating in a study about their health status and withhold proper treatment for their syphilis infections.

At least 28 men died because they weren’t properly treated for syphilis. Many more deaths are believed to be linked to complications related to the study.

Abdul-Jabbar also cited a 2005 National Academy of Medicine report that concluded that “racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality health care than white people — even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable.”

Abdul-Jabbar: Elvis helped campaign to eradicate polio

His support of NBA vaccine advocates echoes that of league commissioner Adam Silver, who voiced his support last month for players getting vaccinated to raise awareness. Abdul-Jabbar also cited Elvis Presley’s role in encouraging Americans to receive the polio vaccine in 1956.

“In 1956, Elvis Presley received his polio vaccine on television, launching a highly effective vaccination campaign that by 1960 had reduced annual occurrences of polio by 90 percent,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

“Health policy professionals suggest that public health campaigns using celebrities should focus on celebrities who are influential in particular communities in order to build trust.”

Abdul-Jabbar: My stance isn’t the same as Charles Barkley’s

Abdul-Jabbar distanced himself from Charles Barkley’s stance that NBA players “deserve” to be widely vaccinated ahead of schedule in order to protect the NBA season — and because they pay higher taxes that most Americans.

“That argument suggests that the lives of those who make more money (and presumably pay more taxes) are somehow more valuable than the nurses, police officers, emergency medical workers, grocery clerks and others risking their lives daily,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

“This is, of course, untrue.”

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