PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The top prosecutor in the City of Portsmouth is encouraging African Americans to get in line and get the coronavirus vaccine. Studies show African Americans are more likely than white people to contract the potentially deadly virus.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales got the first dose of the vaccine Tuesday during Phase 1b vaccinations in the City of Portsmouth.
She is calling on others, especially Black Americans, to set fears aside get the shot in the arm that can save their lives.
There’s a lag in the data, but the most recent numbers show across the state 196,000 white Americans have received the vaccine but only 27,000 Black Americans been vaccinated.
The public health community is trying to ease fears in the African American community, which has been harmed by racist practices in medicine from the past and present.
“I decided to trust the science and not do anything out of fear and do what I thought was best for my person and my family [of 4 children] and those I interact with,” said Morales.
The city’s chief prosecutor has a staff of more than 30, including attorneys, paralegals, administrators, and investigators. Upon entering her office, hand sanitizer is present and staff members wear masks and shields to mitigate any possible contamination.
Last summer, the Portsmouth General District Court was closed for several days after some people in the building were diagnosed with COVID-19.
A pandemic death also recently hit the extended Morales family.
“Thinking about the devastation my children faced, it was really a personal decision to go ahead and receive the vaccine,” she said.
This isn’t the top prosecutor’s first call to action on a public health concern.
Morales grew in the Truxton area of Portsmouth where health officials, in the 80s, were spreading the word about the dangers of children and lead-based paint. Little Stephanie’s call to action was captured by a newspaper photographer when her parents had her tested for lead contamination. She says the results were negative.
“I was captured in the paper because I was one of the young people who said I would go ahead and do it. The photo has me volunteering my finger to be pricked when I was about 2 years old,” said Morales.
Morales represents the Commonwealth of Virginia when she handles some of the most heinous crimes that occur in Portsmouth. Still, she is deeply concerned about the health of those she prosecutes. The coronavirus has killed 53 state prisoners. It has also claimed the lives of three staff members who work in Virginia prisons.
“We’ve [prosecutors] even heard stories around the nation where people who are awaiting trial and are incarcerated and they passed away from COVID-19,” she said.
Virginia prisoners started getting the vaccine in mid-January; the state is even offering free phone credits and care packages to encourage prisoners to get the vaccine.