Miami – No one will argue that 2020 will be a year to remember. Our children and grandchildren will mark 2020 as the year that COVID-19 changed everything. They will pass down this harrowing year as one of misinformation, deception, online education, hand sanitizers, maskwearing; daily must-see press conferences starring Gov. Andrew Cuomo, deserted downtown streets, and empty grocery store shelves. It will be called “The Year of the Great Toilet Paper Panic.” “The Year of the Lysol Crisis.” You could not ﬁnd a pack of Charmin or brown bottle Lysol disinfectant anywhere!
The year 2020 was tough. Showed the good, the bad, and the ugly of the American spirit. Yes. The good. The bad. And the ugly. The coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted that we as a global community of people living on the planet Earth are a fragile species. COVID-19 came on so strong, so powerful, that most of the world shut completely down to cope with this deadly menace. Scenes of wrapped bodies of deceased loved ones left on the curbs of Italy’s townships awaiting removal will live in our collective conscious as one of the darkest moments of this pandemic.
The nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals, under severe strain to administer quality emergency care to patients stricken with COVID-19, hit four cities particularly hard according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC): New York, New Orleans, Washington and Detroit.
In these four cities, the Johns Hopkins Institute found that minorities such as African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinx/Hispanics “shared common social and economic factors in place before the COVID-19 pandemic that increase their risk for COVID-19.” Those factors are crowded housing, essential employment, poor access to health care, and chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung disease. The CDC study further states that “about 90% of those hospitalized with severe COVID-19 had at least one of these underlying medical conditions.”
It is estimated that over 190,000 minorities have perished from COVID-19. Despite evidence that proves President Trump knowingly unleashed a deadly virus on the unsuspecting Americans who elected him to the highest ofﬁce of the land, and the rest of us; even though Trump led America down a rabbit hole of disinformation and political circus antics disguised to appear like leadership, there is one feather he can proudly wear in his
cap: Operation Warp Speed. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, initially warned Americans that a vaccine could be on the horizon in upwards of two years. Operation Warp Speed challenged pharmaceuticals to come up with a COVID-19 vaccine in half the time. In less than a year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for emergency use a vaccine manufactured by pharmaceuticals Modera and Pﬁzer.
All 50 states now have access to the COVID-19 vaccine and a preliminary plan has been implemented to ensure that the most vulnerable Americans, essential workers, and health care professionals are vaccinated and duly protected. The discovery of a vaccine that could possibly save hundreds of millions of lives has been met with joy, relief, hesitancy, and reluctance. Reluctance and a side-eye from the one group of people who have a valid reason for distrusting medical science and the record speed in which the vaccine was produced. The discussion many African Americans are having in the privacy of their homes and publicly on social media is whether we trust government and medical ofﬁcials enough to roll up our sleeves and get vaccinated. Some might think this is foolish talk. Get the vaccine. But for African Americans, we have reason to be cautious and reflective.
When the development of the COVID19 vaccine was in its infancy, scientists needed human subjects to participate in the clinical trials. Who would be the guinea pigs to test a vaccine created to combat the deadliest virus known to mankind since the 20th century’s Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918? Well, there was an idea floated that vaccination clinical trials should take place in the Motherland: Africa. The Land of The Black. French researcher Jean-Paul Mira posed this question in an interview on French television last spring: “Shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?” Why? Supposedly African people are more probable to be “highly exposed” to COVID-19, and according to Mira, the reason is Africans “do not protect themselves.” Mira’s remarks were highly criticized in Africa and around the world. Mira was forced to issue an apology and disavowed claims that he is a racist. However, the researcher’s comments only validated the feelings of distrust, resentment, and fear Africans, and people of African descent, have towards the medical establishment.
The apprehension Africans and African Americans in particular feel in the matter of the COVID-19 vaccine is not due to misinformation as some in the medical community would like to infer. The fear African Americans have towards the COVID-19 vaccine has its roots in two areas: history and timing. Yes. With the odds stacked against African Americans and other minorities in the game of Russian Roulette and COVID-19, it would baffle the minds of some as to why African Americans are not dancing in the street and preparing to get “the shot.” In part, it is the wholesale failure to satisfactorily address and legislate the end of systemic racism and institutional White supremacy in this country that has many African Americans in two camps: reluctance and hesitation. Those in the camp of reluctance are not totally against vaccinations. Some receive yearly flu and pneumonia vaccinations. It is the rapidity of the vaccine’s development that is questionable. There are still unknown variables that must be worked out. For instance, pregnant women cannot be vaccinated. Young people 16 and under cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine. What are the long-term effects of the vaccine? African Americans in the camp of hesitancy have the same concerns. What if a woman, not knowing she is pregnant, takes the COVID-19 vaccine? How will the vaccine affect an embryo or fetus? Only more extensive clinical trials over a period of time will give us the answers.
Then there is history. American history books do not contain the shocking truths behind many medical breakthroughs. These medical innovations came at the great expense of the lives of African American slaves. White doctors and scientists used slaves, men, women, and children, for medical experiments. J. Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology,” was known to perform “reproductive procedures” on female slaves to better understand how slave owners could increase their “investments” through healthy slave childbirths. Many of the “tools of the trade” in gynecological sciences were developed through experimentation on female slaves. Stanford historian Londa Schiebinger noted in her book “Secret Cures of Slaves” that British doctor John Quier documented his experimental smallpox inoculations on 850 slaves in 18th century Jamaica. Black bodies were worked over for commercial and societal proﬁt. Black bodies were commodities in life. Dissected for medical scholarship in death. Unceremoniously dumped in potter’s graves. Or selected body parts kept in glass bottles of formaldehyde for scientiﬁc posterity.
In more recent history, on July 26, 1972, the Associated Press published a story titled “Syphilis Victims in U.S. Study Went Untreated for 40 Years.” The article told of an insidious 1932 experiment called “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” where 600 impoverished Black men were placed in a government study that examined the lifelong effects of Syphilis…upon demise. The 399 Black men, sickened with Syphilis, were not informed of their true diagnosis, and were given medications that were not intended to treat the disease. Some were given painful spinal taps under the guise of “treatment.” When penicillin was discovered to be an effective treatment for those suffering from Syphilis, the antibiotic was withheld from the Black men in the study. Government ofﬁcials were aware of just how dangerous and deadly Syphilis can be without medical intervention yet preferred to be complicit in the spread of disease and death. The Tuskegee study continued for 40 years.
It is, therefore, not hard at all to understand why African Americans, and people of African descent all over the world, are giving the COVID-19 vaccine the side-eye. History gives weight and validity to our reluctance and hesitancy. The incoming Biden administration will have to take the advice of U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams: “To truly combat vaccine hesitancy…we must ﬁrst acknowledge this real history of mistreatment and exploitation of minorities by the medical communities and the government. Then we need to explain and demonstrate all that has been done to address these wrongs.”
Contact Tracey Ricks Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org