Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In an informal poll on my Facebook page. I asked, “Now that there’s the likelihood of a COVID vaccine soon will you get vaccinated?” There were dozens of responses. Most of those responding was Black. Most said no.
Their responses admittedly are anecdotal. However, the results of an August Gallup poll are not. It found that one-third of Americans said no when asked whether they’d get a COVID vaccination. Among minorities the number who consistently said no to a vaccination was much greater. This, despite the fact, that Blacks and Hispanics are hospitalized and die from COVID in disproportionate numbers to whites.
It’s not just a COVID vaccine that many Blacks are wary of. They are wary of almost all vaccines. Countless surveys have shown that Blacks are less likely to get vaccinated as a prevention to just about every infectious disease even though they are far more likely to die from those same diseases than whites.
Vaccines do work and have saved tens of thousands of lives. That almost certainly will eventually be the case with the new COVID vaccines coming on board. Yet, the cajoling, the availability of no cost vaccines, the massive public health education campaigns on the importance of vaccinations have done little to scrub away the suspicion, reluctance, and outright fear among many Blacks of vaccinations.
In trying to make sense out of this age-old fear of many Blacks, the infamous Tuskegee experiment is almost always cited. The ghastly experiment made Guinea Pigs out of dozens of unsuspecting poor Black males who were infected with syphilis. They were deliberately allowed to suffer and die for four decades from the 1930s on with the knowing consent of the U.S. Public Health Service without any treatment.
But that was decades ago, and few individuals are alive today who have even the remotest connect to the men involved in the horrid experiment. Still, the horror of the Tuskegee experiment has spun belief in supposed insidious conspiracies by always unknown and unnamed conspirators in the medical world. The alleged aim is to target Blacks as Guinea Pigs in experiments.
The fear was heightened when Bill Gates mentioned population control earlier this year when discussing his massive, funded health initiatives in Third World countries, particularly Africa. The conspiracy theorists went berserk. They finger-pointed Gates as having sinister designs to kill off Blacks. The claim was totally debunked. But the image of a plot to eliminate Blacks through medical programs and testing was again firmly planted with some.
The racist medical conspiracy line certainly stokes the fear of some Blacks of a COVID vaccine. For others, it’s the finding of endless studies, surveys, and reports. They show that Blacks are at the top of the list of groups at highest risk from every conceivable disease, affliction, and malady.
They are less likely to have access to affordable, quality medical care and treatment than other groups. Countless studies have also shown that they have suffered medical indifference and skepticism if not outright neglect on the part of many medical practitioners. This is certainly more than enough to create doubt and even hostility toward anything from the medical community with a new supposed life-saving stamp on it.
Conspiracies, distrust, racial double standards past and present, topped by the uncertainty over a workable COVID-19 vaccination creates the perfect storm of doubt and outrage over the merits of vaccines. In truth, Blacks are hardly unique in their skepticism about vaccines, any vaccines. Pew Research Surveys found that a significant number of Americans are deeply skeptical of the safety and risk of COVID vaccinations as well as other vaccines.
This does not bode well. The public must have complete trust that a vaccine is safe and effective for it to have maximum value in preventing outbreaks of infections and diseases. And that there is no underlying ulterior motive in encouraging vaccinations. Without that trust, then this virtually ensures that viral infections will continue to be a public health risk and thus an endangerment to wide segments of the population. The uncertainty and debate over a new COVID vaccine is no different.
The galling paradox in all of this is that almost from the moment the coronavirus pandemic hit, Blacks screamed the loudest that they feared that they would be the hardest hit by the pandemic. The disproportionate death rate of Blacks from COVID has certainly borne out this fear. But the disproportionate African American death count is hardly the revelation of the ages. A new COVID vaccine may not be the magic bullet to prevent the dread infection. However, as with any other new vaccine it’s a matter of percentages. If the percentage of those helped by it is high enough then it’s a success. For Blacks then fear of a COVID vaccine may be understandable, but given the monumental health risk of doing nothing, it is inexcusable.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of COVID Politics-Trump’s Deadly Game (Amazon) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network