The lyrics start instantly as an animated version of musician Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC drives around town rapping about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “We can get back to normal / let me inform you / let’s all get the vaccine,” he raps, going on to explain through the lyrics that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, and that it’s not just for the person getting the shot but will help protect the whole community.
The video is one piece of a larger project by Hip Hop Public Health, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering positive health behavior through the power of hip-hop music. This project is designed to reach people who are still hesitant to receive the vaccine. Titled Community Immunity: A Rap Anthology About Vaccines, this new five-part rap anthology aims to fill the knowledge gap regarding vaccination and better fight the COVID-19 pandemic in communities of color.
“COVID-19 is the most urgent global challenge we face today, and if we can encourage 80% of the population to get vaccinated, we can achieve the communitywide immunity we need for social activities to return to normal,” says Dr. Olajide Williams, founder of Hip Hop Public Health, tenured professor of neurology at Columbia University, and chief of staff of the Department of Neurology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “As the coronavirus continues to ravage communities of color, the long-standing distrust that many feel towards medical science has proven to be an even greater challenge.”
Each 60-second video in the Community Immunity anthology features a common underlying hip-hop track with a unique rap verse that incorporates important vaccine information and a universal hook about the benefits of community immunity, which is repeated in each video. The goal of the series is not only to inform, but also to turn receiving the vaccine into a social norm. The videos in the series were launched one-by-one through March 2021, beginning with What Are Vaccines and Why Do They Work?, followed by Are Vaccines Safe and How Do I Know This?; What Are the Common Vaccine Myths, Misperceptions?; What Can I Expect If I Take the Vaccine?; and Getting a Vaccine is Better Than Getting Infected With COVID-19.
Recent research shows why these outreach efforts can play an important role in the fight against COVID-19. A national study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that the self-reported likelihood of getting a COVID-19 vaccine declined from 75% in April 2020 to 56% in December 2020, despite extensive media coverage beginning in November showing high efficacy for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Research has also found that COVID-19 has killed one out of every 645 Black Americans, and Black people ages 35 to 44 have been dying at nine times the rate of white people the same age.
“Our goal with the Community Immunity anthology is to increase vaccine literacy by demonstrating three critical points of fact,” adds Dr. Williams, who also helped create a video about the importance of hand-washing in the fight against COVID-19. “One, the vaccine is safe; two, no scientific shortcuts were taken in the development of the vaccine; and three, being vaccinated is an act of community service.”
The new rap anthology dovetails with other efforts at NewYork-Presbyterian to expand access to COVID-19 vaccinations in the community, including opening a large vaccination site at The Fort Washington Armory in Washington Heights and holding vaccination events at smaller community sites such as the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem as well as the Kiley Youth Center in Peekskill, New York, as part of an effort organized by New York state.
Each video in the Community Immunity series can be viewed below.