ORee hopes receiving COVID-19 vaccine will inspire Black community

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Willie O’Ree took shots against opposing goalies as an NHL player. He took a shot against the coronavirus on Thursday.

O’Ree, the first Black player in NHL history, and his wife, Deljeet, received their first of two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a medical facility near their home in San Diego.

The 85-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer, who made his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 18, 1958, hopes his immunization will inspire people, especially in communities of color, to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can. 

“There are not a lot of Black people getting their shots,” O’Ree said. “Maybe, well, they can say, ‘Now Willie O’Ree, he stood in line and he’s getting the shot. Maybe it will help out.’ Everybody should get it.”

The coronavirus has disproportionately impacted minorities, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but polls have shown a greater hesitancy within Black and Hispanics communities to get the vaccine. 

In a December poll by the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Black people said they would definitely or probably get a vaccine if one were available. At the same time, 83 percent of Asian Americans, 63 percent of Hispanic people and 61 percent of White people in the survey said they would do same.

“History absolutely plays a role as to why communities of color are hesitant to get the vaccine,” Patrice Harris, the former head of the American Medical Association, told the news website Axios. “We need to earn their trust.”

Several notable people of color, from Vice President Kamala Harris to basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar, have publicized receiving their COVID-19 shots in hopes of allaying fears and concerns about the vaccines.

Wendell Taylor, president of S.C.O.R.E. Boston, an affiliate of the NHL’s Hockey Is For Everyone initiative, said O’Ree receiving his vaccine will go a long way in helping to encourage reluctant people of color to roll up their sleeves.

“We must build trust within communities of color so they will be willing to get vaccinated,” said Taylor, who is chief corporation counsel for a Massachusetts biotechnology firm. “For this reason, it is great to see Willie once again stepping into the forefront to show leadership and begin the process of restoring this trust. His actions help demonstrate that the vaccine is safe, effective and an important part of protecting the safety and welfare of communities of color.”

The NHL community has felt the coronavirus’ devastating effects. Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous players in the NHL, died on Nov. 24, 2020 at 86 of complications stemming from COVID-19.

Marlow Stoudamire, a 43-year-old Black Detroit resident who was a driving force in the Detroit Red Wings, NHL and NHL Players’ Association’s 2020 launch of the $1 million “Learn, Play Score” program to benefit the city’s children, died in March 2020 from COVID-related complications.

And former players, from Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Borje Salming to rugged forward Georges Laraque, have been hospitalized because of severe coronavirus symptoms.

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