Wow, after reading all the stuff about the reluctancy by people of color – Black folks in particular – to get a COVID vaccine shot, it appears that I opened a keg of worms with a genuine question I posed to several people of color. That question was: When the COVID vaccine is available, do you plan to get a shot?
Now the reactions were immediate and resounding, among them:
“No way! I distrust things we’ve allowed to be put into our bodies.”
– African American Lawyer
“I still have my doubts about the vaccine, so will take a pass for now.”
- Hispanic business owner
“Duh, haven’t you heard about the Tuskegee experiment? That’s my answer.”
- African American entrepreneur
“To be honest, I’ll wait until I see the results from the experiences of white people who get vaccinated before I put a needle in my arm.”
– Bi-racial writer
Like millions, I watched President-elect Joe Biden and Surgeon General Jerome Powell get vaccine shots on national television. Dr. Anthony Fauci, “America’s Doctor,” soon followed suit.
Yet as a believer in the science, I’m still stick and asking – pleading rather – for someone to help me make sense of the so-called “anti-vaccine” movement that keeps popping up in the news, and the extent to which it may be behind the lingering doubts. Part of the answer I now understand is “vaccine hesitancy, “also known as anti-vax, a reluctance to be vaccinated against contagious diseases despite the availability of vaccinations.
These days anti-vaxxers are targeting different groups – such as minorities and parents – to dissuade them from being vaccinated, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate. They have been running private Facebook groups to train members in identifying those who are “vaccine hesitant” and converting them into members of their movement, according to the CCDH.
Now as an African American, I know how the Tuskegee experiment, perhaps the most famous examples a horrible history of medical treatment of Black folks, is a factor in vaccine hesitancy. But for those needing a refresher here is a snapshot of that awful experiment.
In the early 1930s, doctors deliberately did not treat about 400 Black men who had syphilis so the physicians could study the disease. Many men who participated in the research died and infected their loved ones. They were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government.
In the years since the experiment was exposed, it has become a central reference point for understanding Black Americans’ relationship to the medical establishment, including COVID-19.
Worth mentioning is that the N.A.A.C.P., in conjunction with other organizations, released a report, “Vaccine Hesitancy in Black and Latinx Communities,” which found that just fourteen per cent of African-Americans surveyed “mostly or completely trust” the vaccine’s safety.
And on top of that, wrote The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb, earlier this year a Washington Post-Ipsos poll found that eighty-three per cent of Black people think that Trump is a racist and that only four per cent of Blacks trust the Administration; that distrust has apparently bled into perceptions of the vaccine.
Against the hesitancy, today COVID-19 has been particularly merciless to Black, Hispanic and Asian for reasons of poverty, preexisting health condition and front -line jobs. Black people in particular are dying from COVID-10 at two times the rate of their white peers.
Exacerbating matters are the concerns by undocumented workers who are very reluctant seek any type of medical care, fearing recrimination and being targeted by federal officials for deportation.
“Persuading undocumented immigrants to step forward now will be essential to the overall success of the COVID-19 vaccine program,” said Tera Plese, chief external officer of the Arizona Alliance of Community Health Center.
In the end, we are left with the vexing conundrum of disproportionate infection rates by people of color on one hand against vaccine hesitancy for a myriad of reasons on the other.
Like Shakespeare’s famous life and death soliloquy, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” the life and death question today is, “vaccine shot or not?” – a question that we as individuals must answer….and soon!
As for this African- American columnist, if my doctor tells me to get vaccinated – and I expect he will- I’ll be the first in line, ready, willing and able, and will keep you posted as to how well I’m doing!
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, lTheBlackMarket.com, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.