USA | Oct 23, 2020

Black people are very wary of any COVID-19 vaccine…

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 7 minutes

And why an effective outreach programme is needed 

By Al Edwards 

Black people the world over are suspicious and have little faith in taking a vaccine to fight off COVID-19.

Photo: CARICOM Today

The Internet is awash with various theories that continue to gain traction. There’s the one that says that at eight billion, the world is overpopulated and that, according to a UN report, that number is set to increase to 10 billion by 2050. 

This will lead to problems curtailing poverty and put pressure on limited resources. With blacks forming 30 per cent of the world’s population, a start to curtail numbers could start there. Then there’s blacks pose a threat to white culture, the prevailing world order and European Judeo-Christian pre-eminence. Like the fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Lives Matter Movement signals the barbarians at the gate, diminishing what has stood for hundreds of years. 

Then there are the diminishing fertility rates among whites. This poses a clear and present danger. Tensions are running high. 

Nate Taylor, who is a trucker in North Carolina, told Our Today: “America was built on slavery. It saw black people stripped of our language, culture and human dignity. But it didn’t eliminate us, for centuries we have remained resilient. Do you know blacks are the only people that came to America against their will and were deemed not human but property? “Now they say take a vaccine, it will protect you against the COVID virus. We have never been protected or cared for, so why now? This could be the opportunity to wipe us out, not by butchery but by science. I guess it’s more humane. Black people in America must not take this vaccine.” 

Minister Louis Farrakhan is a well-respected voice in the black community and his call for blacks not to take the vaccine has resonated. 

“We not going to take no medicine that you the killer of all of us – remember the syphilis experiments? Remember what they did to the native Americans with smallpox? Remember what they gave us for polio that was cancer itself?” he asked. 

“So how the hell can you trust them with a vaccine after you know what they have done. You know they are capable of doing it again on a bigger and broader level. It’s government policy to reduce the population of the earth by two to three billion people. If you don’t know it, I’ve been telling you about it,” Farrakhan said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right), Melinda Gates (centre) and controversial black American religious leader Louis Farrakhan (right)

“We will not accept your vaccine because whenever you bring it out, it’s for your people. You give it to them because we are not accepting death, because you are the very representative of death itself. The pale horse and everywhere you went in the world, hell went right behind you. We are sick of hell and we are sick of death. So, all of you who made a covenant with death, your covenant is going to be annulled.” The COVID-19 virus is most rampant in the United States and, there, black and other people of colour are being infected and dying at higher rates than whites. To bring this under sharper focus, blacks there comprise 13 per cent of the population, yet account for 25 per cent of COVID deaths. With obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure prevalent in the black community, they are susceptible to the ravages of the virus. Yet there is a distrust of experimental drugs and experts encouraging blacks and people of colour to take vaccines. To many, the vaccination en masse could be more fatal than the virus itself.

Photo: Medical News Today

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 74 per cent of whites and Hispanics said they would take a vaccine to stave off COVID whereas only 54 per cent of blacks said they would take it. This is borne in the main from the memory of atrocities committed against blacks in the name of medical science. 

Parents and grandparents still recall the 1932 Tuskegee experiments on black uneducated sharecroppers that went on for 40 years and saw men with syphilis deliberately not treated and denied penicillin. They were told they had a case of “bad blood” and given aspirin, their true infection never revealed to them. 

Many died, went blind and had severe health problems, and only got collectively US$10 million in an out-of-court settlement. Then there were people used as guinea pigs for a smallpox vaccine that caused syphilis and pustular outbreaks.

It’s one the many inhumane experiments etched into the consciousness of black Americans, and still raw for many 88 years later. The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, began in 1932 at a time when there was no known treatment for the disease. Hundreds of black men were knowingly infected and denied medical attention—instead given placebos as researchers watched the disease ravage their bodies and minds. (Photo: US National Archives)

There is a history of experimentation and the denial of care which has led to heightened suspicion among blacks of any drug whose credibility is under question. At this time there is a rush to find a vaccine to address the COVID pandemic and where it normally takes years to develop an effective one that has gone through clinical trials, talk continues of one being available before the end of this year. This too is concerning for many black people. 

“We always have to be on the watch for research misconduct, but there’s much less chance today of the significant abuses that occurred with Tuskegee. The U.S. has higher standards for vaccine approval and oversight. What is most important is for people of all races to have access to vaccines since we’re not going back to normality until we have an effective vaccine,” said Executive Director of the American Public Health Association (APHA), Georges Benjamin.

 The fears and mistrust cannot be dismissed and there has to be a dedicated and sincere outreach programme that can convince black people that a vaccine is safe and will not be injurious to their lives.

In Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has sought to bring attention to the importance of the safety of a vaccine and not subjecting people to the horrors of modern science gone wrong while convincing people of the necessity of a vaccine in fighting the virus.

“There has to be a high level of public education to get people to understand the risks and safety dividend that you get from taking that vaccine…”

—Andrew Holness, Jamaican Prime Minister

He has gone on record saying that once a vaccine is available, Jamaica will study it and conclude whether it is safe. Once so, it will be made available to all. The prime minister went to great lengths stressing that Jamaica has to be cautious in approving and using new medicines and vaccines and that it aligns its approvals with those of the WHO and PAHO. He was very clear that the government will not be taking any risks with the health of its people.

For thge ‘new normal’ to return to this industrialised world, people from alll races and backgrounds have to take the COVID vaccine challenge. However, as black people remember past attrocities, how much convincing will they need for this new drug? (Photo: TIME Magazine)

“There has to be a high level of public education to get people to understand the risks and safety dividend that you get from taking that vaccine so that you can make a conscious decision about your own health and security,” said Holness. 

He went on to add that Jamaica must be well placed when a vaccine becomes available and should not be preoccupied with spurious tales and conspiracies about the true intent of the vaccine. “What Jamaicans have to be mindful of, is without this facility vaccines can be developed by the richer countries that have the resources and who develop the vaccine in the first instance; they would be in front of the line and they would be able to vaccinate their population while we are debating fake news, while not having access to a vaccine to help us get our economy on track.” 

It may be a good idea for Prime Minister Holness, together with the Cabinet, to publicly be seen taking the vaccine. This might help to allay fears. The Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research (JCCR) during the summer had a difficult time getting black people to participate in clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. Many of them cited past abuses with medical trials for not signing up.

“The black community [has] disproportionately been devastated by the COVID-19. But they’re inadequately represented with studies that are going to basically come up with a cure or prevention for this disease,” said Vice-President for JCCR, Sharon Smith. 

Nurse coordinator for the JCCR, Crystal Brown ventures an explanation for why this may be so. “I definitely believe it’s something that’s long-rooted with the black community. Unfortunately, because of the past with the Tuskegee experiments. The black community is well aware of that and it’s caused a lot of mistrust.” 

Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation on this issue has been misconstrued and taken way out of context. At no time did she ever say blacks and people of colour should be the first to take the vaccine. She made the point that people of colour in America are more vulnerable to COVID-19 therefore they should be made a priority in receiving the benefits of a vaccine. 

Speaking with TIME Magazine earlier this year, Melinda Gates said: “The first people that need this vaccine are the 60 million health care workers around the world. They deserve to get it before anybody else. Then you start tiering. In the U.S. that would be black people next, quite honestly and many other people of colour. They are having disproportionate effects from COVID-19.”                    


What To Read Next