Health equity and people of color, especially the black community, have been placed in the spotlight for many reasons recently, but even more now in regards to the COVID-19 vaccines that are being offered to us here in the United States. The U.S. health care system has historically failed the black community and communities of color. This is a major source of medical mistrust, which can be attributed by many to the Tuskegee syphilis study.
The fact is that the United States has a history of racial discrimination and exploitation, which has been a large part of distrust by African Americans. Tuskegee has become infamous for its ethical misconduct regarding clinical research, but the truth is, this distrust has deeper roots that date back to slavery.
The infamous Tuskegee Experiment
In 1932, the Public Health Service, along with the Tuskegee Institute, began what was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” 600 Black men in Macon County, Alabama with “bad blood”, a term used in the area during that time to describe a variety of ailments, were part of this study and of those 600, 399 had syphilis, which is a contagious venereal disease. The men were told they would receive free medical care, free meals, and burial insurance. Normally a study would be done with a patient’s consent, but not this one. When told about the study, the 600 were made to believe it would be six months, but those six months turned into 40 years. The study ended in 1972 with 128 deaths among those men. Others went blind, insane, or experienced other health problems due to syphilis being untreated, even after penicillin was readily available.
Because of this horrible “study”, it’s easy to see why there is medical distrust among the Black community.
COVID-19 and the effects on people of color
Racial disparities in the health care system are highlighted yet again as Black Americans have been hit hard by COVID-19. The virus disproportionately affects and kills blacks when compared to whites. Health disparities in the U.S. among black and brown communities compared to white runs deep, and the effects of COVID-19 are no different. Black Americans have died of COVID-19 at a rate around three times higher than that of whites. In 2020, Indigenous, Black, and Latino Americans were at least 2.7 times more likely to have died of COVID-19 than White Americans, adjusted for age, according to APM Research Lab.
According to Pew Research in November 2020, 71% of Black Americans know someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19. 42% of Black Americans said they would get the vaccine compared with 63% of Hispanic and 61% of White adults. 83% of English-speaking Asian Americans were more likely to get the vaccine.
For more information on the latest race and ethnicity data from every state and territory in the U.S., visit the COVID Tracking Project.
For more information on the latest race and ethnicity infection and mortality data from North Carolina, visit the North Carolina infection and mortality dashboard.
The COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy
While deaths are nearly three times the rate of White Americans, Black Americans are being vaccinated at much lower rates while vaccine hesitancy is said to be driving some of the racial gaps. Many civil rights leaders are expressing the fact that the U.S. federal government is still failing to prioritize equitable access in our communities of color.
Young adults and Black adults are most likely to say they want to “wait and see”, according to research as of January 27, 2021, that tracks the dynamic nature of public opinion as the COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution happens. Hesitancy because of distrust in healthcare within the U.S. leads to unnecessary deaths.
In order to promote the vaccine in the U.S. to people that may be hesitant to receive it, many Hollywood actors and celebrities have made an effort to show people just how confident they are in the COVID-19 vaccine. In an effort to reach the Black community more, well-known celebrity Tyler Perry has endorsed the vaccine while acknowledging the horrors of the Tuskegee experiment. Tyler Perry took his endorsement a step further and created a special called “COVID-19 Vaccine And The Black Community: A Tyler Perry Special”.
The COVID virus may never be controlled without the use of a vaccine. For African Americans, the virus is more deadly and hospitalization from the virus is a greater number than that of White Americans. This is just one reason why people of color in the U.S. should be getting vaccines.
There are many myths that are circulating through various media platforms, including social media channels that are placing fear in many people, not just the Black community. To understand more about the facts vs the myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine, read more here.
If you would like to discuss your fears or anxiety around the COVID-19 vaccine, or if you have questions, please speak to your primary care physician.