The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world as we know it forever. In many ways for the good, but it has also exposed the bad. CDF believes that vaccines help keep our nation’s children healthy and safe, especially now as the virus continues to spread across the country. As the roll-out for the vaccine has taken place, messaging and information around how the vaccine works and when it will be available for everyone has been confusing for many, but especially for Black communities and communities of color. Although clinical trials and early scientific research has shown high efficacy, Black, American Indian and Latino communities are still hesitant on whether or not the vaccine is safe for them to take, in spite of also having the highest cases and death rates of the virus. People of color make up the vast majority of essential workers, which increases their chances of contracting the virus. Structural and medical racism are at the core of the hesitancy, which has its roots in slavery, anti-blackness and anti-indigenous racism.
The Tuskegee Experiment in 1932 is one of the most well-known incidents where medical racism and unethical practices in medicine and science towards Black communities took place. The Black men who participated in the study were told that they were going to be treated for Syphilis, but did not receive treatment at all. The men were all sharecroppers, hoping to get medical care and treatment in return for their participation in the study. The Tuskegee Experiment continued for several years after and was a catalyst for the push for full informed consent and the implementation of ethical medical practices and evidenced-based research which involved human subjects.
The hesitancy by Black, American Indian and Latino communities stems from the long-standing distrust of the government in the distribution of equitable resources and access to quality healthcare, notwithstanding state-sanctioned violence. The truth of the matter is that vaccines are vital, effective and safe, and are one of the most important methods in slowing the spread of the virus. Black communities in particular have reported being especially reluctant about the COVID-19 vaccine. Black women, men and children have been at the receiving end of medical mistreatment for generations. For instance, studies have shown that despite infant mortality rates declining, Black babies still were twice as likely to die. Another study conducted by researchers at George Mason University, found that the likelihood of Black newborns dying underneath the care of white doctors was higher, as compared to when they were cared for by Black doctors.
Healthcare investment in these communities still falls short in addressing racial and socioeconomic disparities. The virus has caused fear and uncertainty, amid the lack of trust of the government to meet the basic human and healthcare needs of communities of color. It is vital that there be increased support in culturally relevant messaging, funding and equitable access to the vaccine in the most marginalized Black, American Indian, Latino and communities of color, if we are to put an end to the spread of COVID-19.