Decades of discriminatory medical practices are now affecting the vaccination campaign in the United States.
Although black Americans who contract Covid-19 are about twice as likely to die from it as whites, health officials say a significant percentage of blacks in the U.S. refuse vaccination.
According to a report released in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46.5% of black Americans will not be vaccinated, compared to 32.4% of Hispanics and 30.3% of whites. However, since the pandemic began, the percentage of people in all three groups who are willing to be vaccinated has increased.
The willingness to vaccinate is closely linked to trust in health care institutions and the care they provide. However, the black population in the United States is highly suspicious of health authorities and facilities because of discriminatory practices that they have endured in the past.
Black people’s symptoms are taken less seriously
According to experts, blacks who visit doctors in the United States are less likely than others to have their symptoms taken seriously or receive proper treatment. According to a 2012 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago, mammograms of black women were less often checked by breast cancer specialists and usually were only looked at by generalists that are more likely to delay an early life-saving breast cancer diagnosis.
According to a study by the non-governmental organization Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), seven in 10 African Americans believe that people who need medical care are treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. This distrust is in part due to the disparity in access to care for blacks, which is exacerbated by the pandemic, TIME magazine points out.
The distrust of African Americans just like that of many other vaccine skeptics is also fueled by the fact that the Covid-19 vaccine was developed too fast.
This may explain why fewer non-white Americans are volunteering for vaccine trials. Dr. Jim Kublin, executive director of the Covid-19 Prevention Network, told TIME that of the 350,000 people who have enrolled online to participate in a coronavirus clinical trial in the United States, only 10% were black or Hispanic. But according to the 2019 census, these two groups make up one-third (31.9%) of the U.S. population. They are the population group that experienced more than half of the Covid-19 cases reported in the United States.
The Tuskegee syphilis study is still fresh in the minds of African Americans
The mistrust of black people also stems from a long history of systemic racism, TIME notes. Many respondents to the KFF survey cited the infamous Tuskegee Study. In this study, U.S. government scientists have studied the effects of syphilis on black men since 1932. They studied 600 men for 40 years, without treatment, to see how the infection developed. Many died as a result of the study, which was reported in the press in 1972. But the Tuskegee case is by no means an isolated incident.
According to Harriet Washington, author of the 2006 book Medical Apartheid many dangerous, unconsented, and non-therapeutic experiments were conducted on African-Americans, and there is ample documentation of them, at least since the 18th century.
It’s simply fear. Fear of vaccines, fear of becoming guinea pigs, or something like that. That is what most scares African Americans.
A low rate of vaccination in the early stages of the campaign
According to data released by the CDC, only 5.4% of vaccine doses were administered to African Americans in the first month of the vaccination campaign, a low rate considering they make up 12.5% of the U.S. population. In response to these disparities, many public and private organizations have stepped up efforts to promote vaccines among African American communities and ensure they receive their fair share of doses.