Tyler Perry on getting the COVID-19 vaccine and the "heartbreaking" Capitol riots
Tyler Perry says he's feeling "fine" after receiving his second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and is making sure Black Americans can make a safe, informed decision to sign up themselves.
Audiences at home can see the media mogul receive his inoculation in a new BET special, airing Thursday night, aimed at reducing vaccine skepticism amid a growing racial divide in vaccine distribution.
"If you look at our history in this country, the Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks, it raises flags for us as African American people. So I understand why there's a healthy skepticism about the vaccine," Perry said in a "CBS This Morning" exclusive interview Tuesday. "But once I got all of the information, found out the researchers, I was very, very happy."
Black Americans have been disproportionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and one in three is hesitant to take the vaccine.
Perry admitted he was initially hesitant too. When Atlanta's Grady Health System approached Perry about raising awareness by getting the shot, Perry agreed on the condition that they "answer all of my questions." In the special, they do just that — Perry speaks to Dr. Kimberly Manning and Dr. Carlos del Rio as he receives the inoculation.
The celebrated filmmaker also said it was "beyond heartbreaking" to see how former President Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in early January — as he pointed out, "a Capitol that slaves built."
Read his full interview below:
"CBS This Morning" co-host Gayle King: So much to talk to you about. Were you reluctant to take the vaccine yourself before the doctors at Brady Health System approached you?
Tyler Perry: Well, when Dr. del Rio and Kimberly, Dr. Manning, when they called up and asked if I would take it to encourage the community, I thought, 'I would do that, but you've got to answer all of my questions,' and I thought, 'Well, while you answer my questions, why don't we record it, so you could answer the questions for a lot of people in the community. So yeah, I was skeptical, because if you look at our history in this country, the Tuskegee experiment, Henrietta Lacks, it raises flags for us as African American people. So I understand why there's a healthy skepticism about the vaccine.
King: I understand why they reached out to you. I know you're certainly younger than 65, but they thought if Tyler Perry gets it, it'll send a strong message. What questions did you have for the doctors, I'm curious, give me your top two — what did you want to know from them?
Perry: I wanted to understand the technology, I mean we talked from everything from the Spanish flu of 1918, to what is happening now, to where it came from.
But I think my top question was understanding mRNA technology, and Dr. Kimberly Manning and Dr. Del Rio did an amazing job at explaining that, and how this new technology has helped to come up with the vaccine so quickly, because when I heard things like "Warp Speed" I was really concerned — because this last administration, and all of the pressure they were putting on the CDC and FDA, I don't know — I didn't really feel like I could trust it. But once I got all of the information, found out the researchers, I was very, very happy.
"CBS This Morning" co-host Anthony Mason: Tyler, it's Anthony Mason. Kaiser Health has done a study in the early days of the vaccine rollout. Bearing out what we've been talking about, the fact that there's a distrust here, Black Americans are being vaccinated at a dramatically lower rate — which is really alarming. So, what do you think needs to be done here to build confidence?
Tyler Perry: Exactly what we're doing. The special that I'm doing for BET and asking, having an opportunity to ask experts questions.
The first Ebola patient in America was at Emory Hospital, so I've got the top experts here in town. Dr. del Rio is an epidemiologist who is brilliant. And to be able to ask those questions not only for myself, but share them with the community — you know, I've got people who love what I do and kind of follow me, so I think once they get the information that will help them. What I told them is I'm not taking this vaccine because I want you to take it, I want to give you the information so you make your own choices. I think that's what it's about, education and information.
King: They always talk about the reaction, that's another thing people are afraid of. Number one — which vaccine did you get, Tyler?
Perry: I took the Pfizer. I took my first one January 4, and I took the second one yesterday. I had no reaction to the first shot. This shot that I just took yesterday, I woke up with some aches and pains. But I took some Advil about an hour ago and I feel fine now.
King: They say it's common, you don't have a reaction to the first one but you can have a, sometimes, dramatic reaction to the second one.
King: It doesn't deter you, you still don't regret taking it, right?
Perry: Not at all, because here's the alternative, here's what you don't understand — the problem with this COVID-19 virus, is that you never know how it's going to affect you. I've had people who have died that I know, I've had people who have long-term health issues that I know. So, you're making the choice of getting the vaccine, and — even though it's 95%, 96% efficacy, what happens is you are reducing your chances of ending up in the ICU by 100%.
So I think that it's just important that people know that, if you take your chances with COVID you never know how it's going to affect you and it could affect your long-term health.
"CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil: Tyler, you're absolutely right. We can talk about side effects but we shouldn't forget the main effect, which is the protection against COVID-19. And while we talk abut reactions, I'm actually interested in the reaction to you. As you engage with people online and as you talk with people in the community where you are, have you succeeded with convincing anyone in particular that's been important to you? And what was that experience like that conversion of going, "Okay, they're skeptical, but listen to me, this is good for you," and they make a change?
Perry: Well, I'll tell you this is why the special that we're doing on BET on Thursday night is so important. It's because I have a crew that works for me and they're largely African American people who were all skeptical about the vaccine. When they sat in the room, as they worked on the cameras, and doing hair and makeup and all that stuff, they listened to all the information and by the time we got to the end of it, they all wanted to take it. So I think again, it all goes back to getting the correct information and getting it from people that you trust and you understand. I think this last administration did a lot of damage in eroding trust, when it comes to this vaccine. But the information that I've found has been very helpful.
King: Listen, I know Madea is retired, but if there ever was a time for Madea to weigh in on this subject seems like she would have something to say.
Perry: [Speaking in "Madea" voice] I'm getting that damn vaccine, I'm getting that damn vaccine!
King: People believe Madea, because Madea always speaks the truth!
Perry: That's right.
King: Let's talk about Tyler Perry, because the Oscars are coming up, you're getting the humanitarian award. Whoa, congratulations, bravo. What that did mean to you, Tyler, when you heard you were going to get that? You see the list of people who have received that, and now your name is added to the list. I love this.
Perry: I was completely shocked by that, because you know the thing about it, Gayle, is this — where there is a need and I have the ability, I just want to show up. So to see me being honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, that's beyond moving and I'm so thankful to the Academy for it. So I can't wait. It's going to be a lot of fun.
Mason: Tyler, you made a point of announcing that you were flying back to your home state, to vote in the Georgia runoff election. Bet you're glad you did now, huh?
Perry: Yeah, for sure. Listen, I still don't have the absentee ballot.
King: You still didn't get it?
Perry: They said it would be sent out December 4, we're still waiting for it — still waiting for it. I'm glad I came back.
Mason: The reason you went back, you applied for an absentee ballot but as you said it never came. But Stacey Abrams gave you some advice?
Perry: Yeah, and it was really simple. She said show up, tell them you want to cancel your absentee. I walked in, I had to sign an affidavit, and I voted in person. There wasn't a line and it all worked out, but yeah. I'll let you know when that absentee ballot shows up.
Dokoupil: Let me tell you Tyler, as somebody who has done a little reporting on vote by mail, that thing is never coming. But your vote counted, so that's all that matters. Talking about other votes, there's a vote coming up in the Senate in a couple weeks, probably more than that actually, when the trial starts in the impeachment of President Trump — former President Trump.
I'm just curious, the more we learn about the siege on the Capitol on January 6, the worse it seems. I'm interested in your journey, both your reaction on the day of that riot and then how your thinking has changed as we've learned more as the days have gone on?
Perry: Listen, it's beyond heartbreaking to watch, to see so many people seize the Capitol. A Capitol that slaves built, right? That you've got these Confederate flags walking through where slaves actually built this Capitol. And for me, it was heartbreaking on so many levels because I believe in an America that is more inclusive than that, that we all can disagree and still move forward in what we're doing as a country. So to see that kind of division, to see what happened there — shocking, beyond heartbreaking. I'm glad it's over and glad we're moving toward healing. I really hope that's what going to happen here.
King: You know, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have a podcast, you were one of their first guests —
Perry: Why do you always do this, Gayle? [Laughing]
King: You don't even know what I'm going to ask you! Okay. They have a podcast, you were on it, and you said at the time for 2020, you were handling it one day at a time, and with prayer. I'm wondering what is your wish for 2021? I wasn't going to ask you personal questions about Harry and Meghan! I was asking you about this.
Perry: Well, you know my son, my son is 6 years old. He wrote this beautiful letter. He said "Dear Mr. President and Miss Vice President, please make sure that everyone has access to food." I thought that was really amazing, right? So he's clearly got this gene from me and my mom, just all this stuff with helping. So my hope is that we all do what we need to for the stimulus package to get the people in need what they need, so that we can fix this pandemic we're going through.
King: All right. Tyler Perry, thank you very much.
The BET and BET Her special, titled "COVID-19 Vaccine and the Black Community: A Tyler Perry Special," will air Thursday, January 28, at 9 p.m. ET.
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