NBA Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood tackles COVID vaccine mistrust in communities of color


(LAS VEGAS) — As many Americans hesitate to get vaccinated against COVID-19, NBA legend Spencer Haywood is teaming up with a medical school in Las Vegas to tackle the mistrust of the health care system prevalent in some communities of color.

The Basketball Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist has joined the dean’s advisory committee at Roseman University College of Medicine to work on programs increasing diversity in medicine to tackle this issue.

In an interview with ABC News Live on Thursday, Haywood said that his daughter Shaakira, who is a doctor, inspired him to lend his voice to this cause.

“This crisis that we are facing in the African American community, in particular, in the Hispanic community — we are not being vaccinated because of the fear. There’s misinformation that’s going out, you know, about the vaccine,” Haywood said.

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According to Haywood, a lack of diversity in medicine is one of the factors that leads communities of color to mistrust the system and one that he hopes to tackle through his partnership with Roseman.

“It helps when you have a person of your own ilk and your color to come to you and say, ‘Hey, you know, it’s OK to get the vaccine,"” Haywood said, adding that it’s important to train more doctors of color who can serve their own communities.

Dr. Pedro “Joe” Greer Jr., founding dean of Roseman University’s College of Medicine, told ABC News in a statement that the college is grateful to partner with Haywood in “increasing diversity in medicine through programs that inspire youth to pursue medical education and serve their community.”

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“As far as the African American community, we have so much fear about getting health care,” said Haywood, who played in the ABA and NBA from 1969 to 1983 and averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game for his career.

“We need to get out and get vaccinated. It’s so important,” he added. “Otherwise we’re not going to pull out of this as fast as we should here in America.”

The NBA Summer League kicked off in Las Vegas this week after Nevada reinstated an indoor mask mandate.

Clark County, where Vegas is located, has experienced a 26% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past 14 days, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, the Southern Nevada Health District reports that as of Aug. 6 in Clark County, approximately 55.26% of adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated. That is just shy of the national figure of 61.3%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And as the more transmissible delta variant surges, COVID-19 cases and deaths are up nationwide by more than 20% compared to last week’s seven-day average, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday, and hospitalizations are up over 30% over the previous week.

ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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