There is a high degree of skepticism among minorities and especially Blacks regarding the Covid vaccine. I see it in my own ophthalmology practice.
With Black history month this February, we reflect on historic Black mistreatment by governments and the medical community. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is typically sited as an example (incredibly, it last 40 years).
The calamities of James Marion Sim, a gynecologist who experimented on slaves recently came to the fore, with the removal of his New York City statue.
Today, doctors and hospitals recognize the dangers of conscious and unconscious bias, and many are working to address these issues, but obvious disparities persist in many measures including infant mortality and cancer outcomes among others.
These trends carry through to COVID as well. Many studies have demonstrated worse Black and minority outcomes with COVID due to differences in access to care and higher rates of pre-existing medical conditions. Recently, many of us saw the heart-breaking posts by Dr. Susan Moore, a family physician, in which she reported being treated like a drug addict while hospitalized for COVID. She died from her infection.
Yes, current Black skepticism can be expected and understood, but it has huge ramifications for the Black community and everyone. If we are to overcome such skepticism it must be with empathy and understanding. We will need to reach out as widely and as often as we can to ensure Black lives, and all lives, are protected.
Black leaders have played, and continue to play, a crucial role for which no one else can substitute. We applaud their calls in the media for people, and especially Black people, to get vaccinated. (Bravo, Tyler Perry!) All of us must amplify those voices.
For those thinking “I got my shot, I’m safe”, let’s be clear: the higher the viral load across populations, the more chance for mutations to be generated, and the higher the likelihood that current vaccines, and the protections they provide, will become obsolete. Unless all of us are protected, none of us are protected.
If we want to defeat COVID, we need to understand Black history and learn from past injustices.
Shawn Klein is a physician and the Mayor of Livingston.