Feb 15, 2021
There has been a hesitation among sections of the black population to get the Covid-19 vaccine. And while the existing vaccines may be the best tools we have to stop the spread of Covid, it is understandable that a large portion of the population is hesitant to trust the government and the medical establishment on this.
The black population has seen itself used and abused by the medical system for decades and centuries. In the mid-1800s, a doctor in Alabama named James Marion Simms became the “father of gynecology” by performing medical experiments—including surgeries with no anesthesia—on enslaved black women. Many black women were forcibly sterilized on into the 1960s—without anesthesia, because of the racist lie that black people don’t feel pain the way that white people do.
Echoes of this unbelievable racist behavior are still measurable in doctor and hospital care to this day. The medical system regularly discounts and downplays complaints and problems raised by black patients. Last December, a black doctor—a doctor!—named Susan Moore died from Covid-19; after begging for proper care, the doctors treating her downplayed her condition and discharged her.
Black women are 243% more likely than white women to die of pregnancy and childbirth-related causes—a fact that hits even wealthy celebrities like Serena Williams and Beyoncé.
The experience of black patients is filled with these kinds of stories.
Finally, the best-known example of the Tuskegee Experiment has become notorious for withholding syphilis treatment from black men in Alabama for decades, from 1932 to 1972, all while telling them they were being treated.
And, of course, poor health coverage in black communities directly contributes to the disproportionate number of cases of Covid-19, and deaths from the disease, compared to other racial groups. Contradictory messaging of Covid practices, and a chaotic rollout of the vaccine, add to this distrust.
Not to mention, there are plenty of reasons for black people to distrust the government that tells them to get a vaccine. This is the same government whose police kill black men and women on an almost daily basis. This is the same government that in the name of the “war on drugs,” used mass incarceration to lock up whole generations of young black men.
It is bitterly ironic that the population hardest hit by the Covid-19 epidemic is also the most distrustful of the vaccine.
But it is not up to the black population to allay its own well-founded fears. The responsibility to address the vaccine reluctance lies with those who created this monstrous history in the first place, to admit responsibility and to tell the truth. And finally, to recruit and engage medical personnel trusted by the black population, and know that a legitimate reluctance will continue to cast its shadow into the future.