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After centuries of racist medical experimentation and neglect of black bodies, the U.S. government doesn’t seem to know which is more complicated–getting states to equitably rollout coronavirus vaccinations or convincing wary Black Americans to take them.
The Biden Administration took office confidently proclaiming a plan for 100 million Americans vaccinated within 100 days. Still, barely half the country is vaccinated, today. The administration is worried about the lack of racial data from states on the equitable rollout of the vaccines. Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity task force, told reporters that “We cannot ensure an equitable vaccination program without data to guide us.”
While most states have no problem sharing racial data on the rate of hospitalizations and deaths–with Black and Latino Americans being at least three times more likely to be hospitalized and four times more likely to die from the coronavirus if infected–only 20 states have shared racial data on how many of their residents have been vaccinated.
According to a recent epidemiology and surveillance report from the Oklahoma Department of Health, Black, Latino, and Indigenous Oklahomans are receiving the vaccine at far lower rates than whites, despite being much more likely to be hospitalized by Covid-19.
In fact, White Americans are receiving the vaccine at more than three times the rate of Black Americans nationally. But while some health advocates blame hospitals, local officials, and poor logistics on the lack of vaccinated Black people, mainstream media is now coming to a conclusion Black Americans knew all along.
The intergenerational distrust of a racist healthcare system outweighs the current fear of a deadly pandemic. Even though 71 percent of Black Americans reported knowing someone who has died due to Covid-19–the highest of any racial group–less than half of Black Americans said they planned to get vaccinated for the virus in a December poll.
From scores of enslaved Black women who were forced to undergo dangerous and painful vaginal surgeries to Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used without permission to create cures for countless diseases, Black Americans grew to see the medical community as harmful.
As the Center for Disease Control urges Black Americans to get vaccinated today, the community hasn’t forgotten the infamous syphilis study from 1932 to 1972. The U.S. government and the CDC watched the untreated disease’s progression in hundreds of poor black sharecroppers to see what would happen.
It’s no wonder then that in 2021, Black Americans now have that same attitude of waiting to see what happens before taking the Covid-19 vaccine. Of course, the Trump Administration’s constant misinformation hasn’t helped to assuage fears of taking these much-needed vaccines.
But as lawmakers urge states to release racial data to ensure an equitable rollout of the vaccine, the current data is clear: it will take more than a change in the presidency to undo 400 years of distrust.