John Legend is ready to get back out there. The EGOT winner is looking to return to performing live, to reunite with loved ones in Ohio, and to see Americans overall come together in the way they used to. That can’t happen without vaccinations.
The star, who received the Pfizer vaccine, is partnering with Walgreens for their “This Is Our Shot” campaign to encourage others to do the same. The pharmacy store chain is currently allowing people to schedule appointments to be vaccinated at certain locations. And now that most states have made every individual over 16 eligible for the vaccine, there isn’t much that is standing in the way from the country returning to a semblance of normalcy — aside from maybe some skepticism.
Legend talks with us about his COVID-19 vaccination experience, the mistrust out there, and the importance of using his platform for change of all kinds.
ESSENCE: How have you been coping with pandemic living in this past year? I know you’re already back to work with The Voice, but live shows and things like that are still not happening just yet. How has that been for you?
John Legend: Well, we’ve all had some ups and downs in the past year, and this pandemic has affected literally everyone in the world. We’ve had over 500,000 people die in the U.S. alone, and it’s been particularly devastating in Black and brown communities. And that level of grief, that is something that we just haven’t seen before in our lifetime. To have that happen, and then for us to see the light at the end of the tunnel now is…we’re still grieving what we’ve lost, but we finally have a reason for optimism, I think. That’s really why I teamed up with Walgreens to get this message out about vaccination because we’ve seen all the pain and the devastation and the death that’s been caused by the virus. Through the ingenuity of the human mind, through our scientists doing the work that they’ve done, multiple vaccines are proven to be effective and safe. And those are really our ticket to getting out of this pandemic.
As you mentioned, you’ve partnered with Walgreens as a way to encourage people to get out there and get vaccinated. Did you have a fever or any mild side effects from having your shot?
I was just a little sore in my arm where I got the vaccine. But other than that, I didn’t. I do have family members that did get flu symptoms for 24 hours or so. My brother did, my uncle did. And I think it’s a small price to pay to experience that for a day or so, but to also prevent yourself from getting the virus, and prevent yourself from passing it on to other people. I have family members that we lost due to the virus, and I’m sure most Americans do. So I think even if you experienced some small symptoms, side effects from the vaccine, it’s really just your body doing its work. It’s worth it because you’re going to protect yourself from getting the virus, and also get the whole country closer to opening back up fully.
There is skepticism. There is definitely a bit of that within the Black and brown community, and a lot of that is based on history. What do you say to those people to offer reassurance, knowing the seamless experience that you’ve had getting vaccinated?
Well, I just talk about the devastation that the COVID-19 virus has wreaked on our community. If you look at infection rates and then hospitalization rates and death rates, it hit our community and the Latino community harder than just about anyone. And we have all lost something from that, not only losing the lives of some of our family members, but also losing the opportunity to get together in the ways that we used to. I want to get back to embracing our older loved ones without having to worry about getting them sick. All of that is much more likely, much more possible if more of us get vaccinated. And again, the risk of getting the virus is way more deadly, way more scary than the minimal, infinitesimal risks that are associated with the vaccine. It’s not even close. It’s not even a comparison. So I talked to my relatives. I talked to my dad about it. I talked to my mom about it. I talked to my siblings about it. And I said the same thing in private that I’m saying publicly. The risk of getting the virus is way worse than any minimal risk that’s associated with the vaccine itself.
You’ve been very outspoken in regards to matters in general that impact us as Americans, as human beings, whether it’s vaccinations, the importance of voting, and the movement to end poverty around the world. Why has it been so important for you to utilize your platform in that way?
Well, I think we have such a rich tradition in the Black music community of speaking out on issues. We’ve never had the luxury of just sitting by and staying out of politics, because too much of our family’s lives, our community’s lives have been affected by politics. They’ve been affected by the way society treats each other. And so whether it’s Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin or Nina Simone or Paul Robeson or Harry Belafonte or so many other artists, Mahalia Jackson, so many other artists in our tradition have spoken out. They realized that they were fortunate to be in the position that they were in, that they were exceptional. They were exceptionally talented, exceptionally gifted, but also had an exceptional opportunity to reach the masses. And they didn’t want to waste that opportunity. I feel the same way. There’s too much going on for us to just sit by and make money singing and dancing without looking out for our community.
What can’t you wait to do as a vaccinated individual and once more people are vaccinated, too?
I can’t wait to perform at a concert with a full audience there. Oh, my goodness. I’m going to speak at Duke this weekend for the commencement and I haven’t been in front of any audience since late February, last year. It’s crazy. And it doesn’t just affect me, but that affects all those people that make a living putting on shows, whether they work in the crew, whether they’re musicians, whether they’re ticket office workers. There’s so much economy that goes around putting on shows, putting on theater productions, putting on all these other gatherings that bring a lot of people together in the same room. And for us to not be able to do any of that for over a year has been so devastating for so many people.
And personally, I just miss it. I miss the energy and the connection that we all feel when we are together in a room. I’m looking forward to that.