Are black people suspicious of taking the COVID-19 vaccine?Sunday, September 19, 2021
There is a low vaccination rate among black people.
Black Americans make up 13 per cent of the US population, however, they account for up to 23 per cent of COVID-19 deaths. Looking at the age groups for comparison, the death rate for black Americans aged 35 to 44 is over eight times that of whites in this same group. The COVID-19 vaccination rate in black people in the United States is less than 15 per cent. Across the United States, 72 per cent of the adult population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
While this progress represents a significant achievement in vaccinations that have led to steep declines in COVID-19 cases and deaths, vaccination coverage and its protections remain uneven across the country.
In health care, there have been several racial disparities across the board with decreased access to health care. People of lower income have a higher rate of chronic illnesses. With a higher income, access to better medical care becomes easier, especially given the surge in patient financial responsibility seen in recent years. Globally 25 per cent of people are fully vaccinated, with over five billion doses administered. In low-income countries, only 1.4 per cent of people have received at least one dose.
Based on continent data, Africa has the second largest population with approximately 1.3 billion people, with Asia's population approximately 4.6 billion. Vaccination rates are lowest in the African continent at 2.6 per cent fully vaccinated compared to North America with a 41 per cent fully vaccinated rate.
The problem looms large and to date public health policies do not address the concerns. There is also the question of mistrust among black people around the concerns about their health. There has never been a time in history when the world has shown concern about the health of blacks.
Understanding the black mindset requires an understanding of the black experience and the history of black slavery. For nearly 400 years, European slave traders captured and bought Africans and transported over 12.5 million to the Americas, with approximately 15 per cent dying in transit. The experience was passed down over generations and must have generated resentment and mistrust. Even after slavery was abolished, the United States Constitution declared blacks as only 3/5th the value of a white person, and black people faced systematic blocks with exercising their voting rights. Today this is still the black experience, especially for males. Recently, we see a resurgence of public protests against police brutality in which black men are seen on videos being killed innocently by white police officers.
This sparked outrage across the USA and led to the organisation Black Lives Matter (BLM) being formed to lead the protests against police brutality.
Systemic racism faced by black people extended into science. The United States has had many case examples in which black people were used for “human lab rats”, so to speak. Perhaps the most infamous was the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which about 600 black men were unknowingly subjected to untreated syphilis. At the same time, the white doctors observed them for 40 years to document the natural progression of the disease to their deaths. The Terre Haute study was difficult to conduct and contributed to the second syphilis study conducted in Guatemala on humans from 1946 to 1948. Many patients died horrible, painful deaths. The experiments on Seventh-Day Adventist enlisted soldiers who were infected with Tularemia or Q fever bacteria as part of a biodefense programme. Although not an experiment by strict definition, the first immortal cell line called the HeLa cells consists of cells taken from the cervix of a black 31-year-old female patient, Henrietta Lacks, in 1951 without her consent or knowledge. Even today, her HeLa cell line is being used to study the effects of SARS-CoV on humans.
This mistrust is now compounded by misinformation and clear communication being present. There are several manufacturers for the COVID-19 vaccine with varying types of vaccine. The highest efficacy is reported to be 95 per cent immunisation. In most developing and developed nations, vaccines are given to children for several conditions. The types are known as live attenuated (MMR), inactivated (Polio), toxoid (Tetanus), and sub conjugate (Hepatitis B). The main COVID-19 vaccination types are mRNA, viral vector, and protein subunit. The presence of mRNA being injected into cells harkens to that of science fiction in which a human could change from making changes to the DNA. For a non-medical person, the vast majority of black people, there is a lack of clarity on the mRNA vaccine mode of action, which has lingered. With so many historical reasons to mistrust the US Government and drug companies, we see that black people do not trust the COVID-19 vaccines. According to some published data, only 14 per cent of black people trust the COVID-19 vaccine to be safe. Less than 50 per cent would take the vaccine.
Vaccines, in general, were experiencing a backlash before the COVID-19 vaccine. Many celebrities have blamed vaccines for autism in children. Surveys show 26 per cent of parents trust a celebrity as a credible source on vaccine safety, and therefore with social media as a free and open platform any outspoken celebrity will find a willing audience.
There is a movement by outspoken opponents of the COVID-19 vaccines on social media. Recent controversies have arisen, such as issuing patents for coronavirus vaccines and coronavirus particles. Black people would naturally ask this question. So how many of such tissue samples are being taken from other black patients today and used for scientific research? They would also ask; how many Tuskegee experiments are being done as we speak but are not aware of? Science is still not transparent enough for citizens to have a high degree of belief that the system is unbiased and ethical. Even with informed consent, many subjects are attracted to studies because they need money. Is this not using poor humans as lab rats?
Others may ask, why are there different forms of the vaccine, and how well will I be protected? Is it safe if only 95 per cent effective at best? Will this immunity last now that they need boosters? Who is benefiting financially from the novel coronavirus pandemic? Is there a wealth creation only for a few select individuals?
We look to address some of these problems and questions in our part 2 of this article.