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Put away fear of COVID vaccination

Earl O. Hutchinson

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 also 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 of 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 many African Americans who say ‘No deal’ on a shot.

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 vaccinations and 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 without any treatment for four decades from the 1930s on with the knowing consent of the U.S. Public Health Service.

But that was decades ago, and few individuals are alive today who have even the remotest connection 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 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 new COVID vaccines may not be the magic bullet to prevent the dreaded 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.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.