Earl Hutchinson author and political analyst
One respondent to a Facebook poll in which I again asked, “Now that there’s the likelihood of a COVID vaccine soon will you get vaccinated?” flatly said, “I won’t be a Guinea pig for whites.”
The grim sickness, hospitalization and death figures from COVID-19 are endlessly looped on nightly newscasts and in print. The figures all show one thing: African Americans are far more likely to get sick, get hospitalized, and to die from a COVID triggered malady than whites. Yet, side by side with the death count, more Blacks than any other group say they won’t get a COVID vaccination.
The resistance to a vaccination was confirmed again in a Kaiser Foundation survey. It found that one out three Blacks said they wouldn’t get a shot.
The number who said no was unchanged from an August Gallup poll. It found that one-third of Americans said no when asked whether they’d get a COVID vaccination.
African American medical groups, civil rights leaders, and elected officials have pleaded, implored, and practically begged African Americans on social media, in press releases, and viral townhalls to get vaccinated. They have produced study after study, and report after report, vouching for the safety of the two vaccines now available. Yet, none of their pleadings has shaken the still many African Americans who say no deal on a shot.
There were dozens of responses in three informal Facebook polls I took on the question of getting vaccinated. Most of those responding were Black. Most again continued to say no. The responses were anecdotal. But more troubling was that the number who said no were much greater than the one out of three who said no in the surveys and polls on the issue.
There’s more. Many Blacks are not just wary of a COVID vaccine. 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. One respondent to my Facebook poll flatly said, “I won’t be a Guinea pig for whites.”
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.
Yet, 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.
The 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.
However, the disproportionate African American death count is hardly the revelation of the ages. The new COVID vaccines may not be the magic bullet to prevent the dread infection. Still, 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. Only time will tell on that. But what time has shown is that Blacks remain the greatest disbelievers in the vaccines, even while they die in greatest numbers from COVID related diseases.