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2020 in Review: vaccine hesitancy, elective surgeries and medical caregiving

NewsHour Weekend’s Connie Kargbo joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss some of her most impactful work from 2020: necessary ‘elective’ surgeries being suspended during the pandemic due to hospital overflow; vaccine hesitancy; and how aging caregivers, at risk for COVID, ask themselves-- who will care for my diasbled loved one when I’m no longer around?

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  • Michael Hill:

    In another of our year-end interviews, Hari Sreenivasan spoke with NewsHour Weekend producer Connie Kargbo on some of the stories she produced for Christopher Booker as the coronavirus dominated the news cycle.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Connie, one of the first things that we noticed as hospitals in New York and other places began to be overwhelmed by COVID patients is that elective surgeries were shutting down. And you took a look at the fact that, well, "elective" is really just in the name, that some of these surgeries are pretty necessary.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Absolutely. Elective surgeries are really a misnomer when you think about it. It's really just emergency surgery versus non-emergency. And so when you think about an emergency it can be, it could run the gamut of what you're actually doing.

  • Melissa Siller:

    So I was supposed to have a cervical spine fusion or a cranial cervical fusion. So it fuzes my skull and to a few of the vertebrae in my cervical spine. And because of the number of covered cases in New York City, the hospital that I would be having the surgery at is really over.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Flooded with COVID patients, Siller found out late last month the surgery would be postponed indefinitely. That's because it's considered elective.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    We spoke with a number of people who were actually delayed in terms of having their surgeries and these procedures that would help in terms of them walking and having a better quality of life. And they simply, you know, towards the beginning of the spring, as this pandemic was unraveling, it wasn't possible for them to get into hospitals at all to get these necessary surgeries.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You also had a story about people that we often overlook in this process, which are the caregivers, how they're dealing with this, how they're processing it, how sometimes they're dealing with the worst possible outcome.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    We spoke with caregivers who are taking care of people with disabilities — so it could be an intellectual or developmental disability. And we found that, as we were doing the story, and a lot of it was filmed pre-pandemic, but still had a lot of implications during the actual pandemic that we have been experiencing. And the issue is that as they get older and they continue to provide care, the question now becomes: What happens when they're no longer around? And so as we think about deaths that are happening due to COVID, it becomes an even more critical question as to how do you get the best care to this population when so often it's been given by family members.

  • Christopher Booker:

    Kent, can't walk unassisted and has very limited verbal skills.

  • Audio Recording:

    Kent, what are you up to now?

  • Christopher Booker:

    And for the past 51 years, it's been his parents, Ron and Virginia, caring for him in rural Wisconsin. Did you think you would still be in this caregiving position at your age?

  • Virginia Socwell:

    Absolutely not.

  • Ron Socwell:

    I didn't think I'd be, well, I didn't know who else was going to do it. I always said, you know, 70s, that's about it. You get to be 80. It's over. Well, then you get to be 80 and you say, well, maybe, maybe it'll be over.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    In Wisconsin, where we filmed a bunch of the story where you ended up finding out is that nonprofits are really stepping in to be like, 'How do we prepare for when you're no longer around?' And that could be getting a will together that could be designating a guardian for someone who may have one of these disabilities. Let's have something in place. So when you're no longer around to provide that care, your son, your daughter, your sibling will be taken care of.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    One of your most recent pieces was about vaccine hesitancy. Why?

  • Connie Kargbo:

    When I was looking at some of the poll numbers in terms of the African-American community in particular, there is significant distrust, especially compared to other communities. And I balanced that along with what I was hearing in my own life. My family, my friends, they were skeptical. They're like, 'I'm not sure I want to take this vaccine. How, how certain are we that it's really been tested, you know, to make sure it's really effective.' And so ultimately, for me, that made sense to me. If I have people around me asking these questions and I think it's valuable for me to go and look for the answers.

    And as you go into the history of why, there is this deep-seated skepticism of not just vaccines in general, but also the medical system, you find that it's rooted in history. You know, African-Americans have been experimented on. You know, they have had situations where they were used as guinea pigs. So it's really important for me to speak to these issues that I was hearing in my community. And I think that in speaking with virologists and speaking with doctors and people who were also part of clinical trials, I hope I was able to answer some of those questions that some of my family have had and people who I've been speaking with in general.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Connie Kargbo, thanks so much and happy holidays.

  • Connie Kargbo:

    Happy holidays to you, Hari.

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