"I'm not getting the COVID-19 vaccine, they might be trying to kill us off."
This is a phrase that I've been hearing more often than I expected. Amidst the devastation of the pandemic, I thought that everyone would be excited for its end, and willing to take whatever measures were necessary to get there. Now, my first instinct was to break out my biology class notes on vaccines and emphasize their history and why everyone needs to be a team player. The second was to just pull the "you sound ignorant" card, but with that, I lose the opportunity to understand a different point of view. Why? I have essential workers in my own family that have already received the vaccine, and others that are willing to leave their healthcare profession completely if they are forced to.
COVID-19 and the Black Community
The Black community has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Though we only account for 15% of the general population, we account for 39% of all COVID-related deaths. To give you an idea of the severity, 72% of all COVID-related deaths in Chicago were Black people...Black people only make up less than a third of the city's population.
Our higher mortality is attributed to a variety of reasons:
We tend to go to the doctor less frequently and have a more difficult time accessing COVID tests.
We live in communities of closer proximity, making the option of social distancing more difficult.
Health centers are often inaccessible without transportation.
Many of us work "essential" jobs, whether that be the hospital or restaurants.
So, in knowing all this, why is there not more of a sense of urgency and support to get the vaccine? We should be first in line, right?
I thought a country who has a history of using Black men and women as medical test dummies since our captures SAID. SOMETHING. One commonality I have found whenever I speak to a Black person about the COVID-19 vaccine, they mention one key word...TUSKEGEE.
Tuskeegee Experiments (CDC)
Tuskegee and It's Impact on the Black Community
The Tuskegee Experiment is something nearly all Black Americans know. It involved 600 Black men from Tuskegee, Alabama, all under the impression that they were being treated for "bad blood", which was a term, "...used to treat several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue." Due to Blacks having limited access to medical treatment and rarely burial insurance, participating in this trial was extremely attractive. The trial was supposed to last 6 months, but went on for 40 years. Black men were left untreated for syphilis for up to 40 years, even when penicillin was found to cure the disease.
So, essentially, many of us don't trust the government or even modern science based on extremely valid reasons and historical evidence. However, vaccines save lives, so how do we combat a history of distrust?
In my opinion, the U.S. government, as well as governments around the world should invest more efforts in explaining to its citizens about the safety and significance of the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are being introduced. Assuming that people "don't care" to know science is a tired excuse. The history of the US medical system and the Black community is not good at all, so it is essential that we are comforted and reassured that this vaccine is not another sick trick.
What goes into a vaccine trial? How do we know that the vaccine is 'safe'?
There are 3 phrases that vaccines must undergo in order to be approved and deemed effective, and human trials happen after clinical trials on animals first.
Phase 1: Small number of volunteer subjects; this is when they test to see if the vaccine can generate an immune response and confirm that the dosage is correctly determined
Phase 2: Hundreds of volunteers receive the vaccine and the side effects are close monitored. Both placebo and the vaccine are implemented here.
Phase 3: Thousands receive the vaccine (there is also a placebo/control group here), and determine if the vaccine effectively protects against the disease at hand (COVID-19).
All of this must happen before a vaccine is deemed safe for the public, and in both Pfizer (95% effective) and Moderna (94.1%) vaccine trials, they were shown to be effective in preventing the individual from having COVID-19. Also, both trials were tested on diverse populations that were modeled after the population break-down of the country, so thousands of Black people have already been tested, and are already receiving the vaccine.
We have a choice. In a few months, vaccines will be available to the greater American public. In less than a year, we have seen 398 thousand COVID-related deaths. The economy is suffering, the field of education is suffering, we are tired. We keep hearing phrases that suggest working together to reach the end of the pandemic, and this may be a solution, but so much more dialogue is crucial. In order to increase the amount of individuals that will actually go out and get the vaccine, it's essential to push the facts, consider the doubts, and ensure that we are all on the same page.