By now, it has become abundantly clear that black people have suffered disproportionate mortality due to COVID-19. For example, in Chicago, while blacks made up 42% of cases, they were 56% of the deaths in a recent analysis. In my city of Washington DC, blacks were most recently about 50% ofCOVID-19 diagnoses but represented almost 80% of the deaths! With that in mind, if there were a SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccine, would you get it? Think about that while I explore this issue.
Black people are trapped between a rock and a hard place when it comes to medical issues. Historically, we have been neglected, and even abused, within medical system. This has ranged from being denied access to medical treatment to being used as guinea pigs in dangerous research.
The most egregious case is the notorious Tuskegee experiment where black men were denied medical treatment for syphilis and simply used to document the natural history as they slowly succumbed to the infection. The study went on for decades before it was forced to stop in the ‘70s. As horrific as it was, it was by no means unique and other groups of people have been exploited in very dangerous medical research, particularly incarcerated men and even active duty military.
So it should come as no surprise that many of us have great mistrust for the medical system. This has made many blacks reluctant to engage in the medical system and as a result, we often do not get the health advantages of protective interventions including disease screenings, vaccinations and treatments. So through this ironic twist, our justifiable fear ultimately comes back to hurt us.
Vaccines are responsible for the total elimination of debilitating infectious diseases like Polio and Smallpox. Vaccination of infants against diseases of childhood are public health strategies that are among the most universally successful approaches.
However, failure to vaccinate children out of fear of increasing the risk of Autism has led to a resurgence of measles, an infection that we had eradicated. There is no solid scientific evidence showing childhood vaccinations increase rates of autism. Similarly, many folk refuse to get a seasonal flu shot. While no vaccine is 100% effective, millions of Americans fail to get the vaccine and this results in tens of thousands of people dying every year from the flu, mainly the elderly and people with other medical conditions.
I was stunned a few days ago to read on Facebook that people were making claims that a research study showed that folks who had received the flu vaccine were more likely to contract COVID-19. This is simply not true. It resulted from misinterpretations of studies by people who are not scientists or medical professionals. This myth is rapidly spreading across social media within black networks. Many of these folks have pledged never to get a flu vaccine as a result of this. It made me wonder if these people would get a coronavirus vaccination if there was one available.
So while it is not uncommon for a medical intervention developed to help us having unintended consequences, it is important that good research and science help us tease this out. It is very common for misinformation to circulate in our communities and this can have negative health consequences for us. In the next article, I will discuss the potential for a SARS-CoV-2(COVID-19) vaccine and the science surrounding this quest. In the meantime, stay safe!