Why Black People’s Mistrust of the Vaccine is Warranted

*I do not have any medical experience or background. This article is written in the context of past and current significant issues that have plagued black communities in relation to healthcare inequities.**

Person Holding Injection

If history is meant to teach us to learn from and not repeat mistakes of the past, then Black Americans have every right and reason to mistrust the American healthcare system. From the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments to the outright theft of Henrietta Lacks’ cells, the American medical community have mistreated and used black people as experiments for generations. Even in 2020, there is empirical written evidence that racism has led to severe health disparities within our communities. For us, it is only normal that we have a profound mistrust of this ill-timed and rushed through vaccine that many feel (not just black people) has not adequately been tested with many outright protesting taking it, at least in the early stages.

Oddly enough, on Monday, December 14th a Black critical care nurse of Long Island’s Jewish Medical Center, Sandra Lindsay, was the first front line worker to receive the vaccination in the United States. The vaccine produced under Operation Warp Speed (OWS) began in March 2020 and was approved on December 11, 2020 by the FDA  under the issuance of an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 product. A process that normally takes at least five years under rigorous scientific trials and testing was completed in just under nine months at the urgency and complete insistence of President Trump. He at the time was suffering terrible poll numbers due to his handling of the Coronovirus from the very beginning of the novel virus’ initial appearance. The pharmaceutical giant Moderna vaccination is expected to be approved within the next couple of weeks. (Update: Moderna was given emergency authorization by FDA on Friday, December 18, 2020.)

Sandra Lindsay
Critical care nurse, Sandra Lindsay. She was the first person in the U.S to take the vaccine for Covid-19.

Systematic racism has been a part of the American medical community pretty much since it’s inception. It was only in 2008 that the then president of the American Medical Association (AMA), Ronald M. Davis, MD, apologized for the organization’s past policies that knowingly excluded African American doctors and professionals. It is widely known that black bodies have never been viewed with much regard as evident in The Tuskegee experiments. This unethical research has been one of the greatest tragedies of the history of American medicine. Nearly 400 black men were intentionally left untreated from syphilis so doctors could see how the disease destroyed the body. Horrendous acts such as this are widely known among black communities. Even today, black women are four times more likely that white women to die due to pregnancy complications.

Not only was Lindsay’s vaccination nationally televised but somehow there is a sneaky suspicion that out of all the healthcare professionals available that she was chosen for a specific reason. Black women have a reputation for being at the forefront of change within our communities especially during the hostile year that has been of 2020. We witnessed the spectacular social justice movement of Black Lives Matter (BLM) which was spear headed by black women gain international support after the unfortunate murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others due to overzealous law enforcement. The solidarity of BLM rivaled the early civil rights movements by bringing together all races and even other nations that are able to empathize with the lack of accountability of police for committing erroneous deaths of African Americans. Naturally, the power of the black woman is highly recognizable especially among political circles.

Rate ratios compared to White, Non-Hispanic personsAmerican Indian or Alaska Native, Non-Hispanic personsAsian, Non-Hispanic personsBlack or African American, Non-Hispanic personsHispanic or Latino persons
Cases11.8x0.6x1.4x1.7x
Hospitalization24.0x1.2x3.7x4.1x
Death32.6x1.1x2.8x2.8x
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-race-ethnicity.html

Hundreds of thousands of American lives are gone due to Covid-19 leaving behind grieving families left to cope with inconsolable loss as well as millions more that are now unemployed and facing financial hardships. It is no secret that communities of color have disproportionately been affected from the virus due to issues such as underlying health risks, socioeconomic statuses, and access to affordable healthcare. Ideally, a vaccination would be welcomed considering the higher rates that our communities are affected but with so much negative history it is not difficult to see why Black Americans mistrust the medical community. Historically, we have been the test dummies for a nation that continually shows that they do value the lives of African Americans or those of the poorest individuals. Another aspect is that large numbers of the Black community just does not trust Donald Trump. It was he who recently proclaimed that he and his White House staff would hold off on taking the vaccine that they forced through. The things that make you go “Hmmm.”

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