Black Americans in the RGV distrusting of COVID-19 vaccine due to Tuskegee study

Coronavirus

Harlingen, Texas (KVEO)—As the nation is one step closer in getting the COVID-19 vaccine, some Black Americans have been skeptical of getting it.

After millions of COVID-19 cases, over 300,000 deaths in the United States and months of quarantine, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

This Rio Grande Valley hospital had more COVID-19 vaccine doses than employees who wanted them

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved by the FDA and frontline workers, politicians, and those most vulnerable have already received it.

According to the Pew Research Center, Black Americans continue to stand out as less likely to get vaccinated–just 42% percent have the intent to do so.

By comparison, 63% of Hispanic–and 61% of White Adults have the intent to get vaccinated. Contrastingly, 83% of Asian Americans are even more likely, definitely or would probably get vaccinated.

Pastor Carl Flowers of Anointed Word RGV Church, in Edinburg, is among those who are not anxious to get in line.

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One of Flower’s main concerns is the speed in which the vaccine was developed and approved. He’s also concerned with the lack of data.

“I’m glad there’s a vaccine. I’m glad we can move forward, but I’m not going to be first in line to take it,” he said.

Flowers also said there is something else lingering in the back of his mind, which is The Tuskegee Study.

Credit: U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare

The Tuskegee Study is a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service and the CDC.

The study involved 600 black men. 399 had Syphilis, 201 did not have the disease. 

The study was conducted to gain a better understanding of the disease, but the CDC acknowledges today that the study was conducted without the benefit of patient’s informed consent.

Many Black Americans refer to the study today as unethical, making them hesitant to receive the Covid-19 Vaccine that immunologists have developed. 

“That was a real horrid part of our past, a horrible part of our history as a nation,” Theresa Gatling, the Local Pastor of Mt. Olive Worship Center in Mcallen said.

Credit: U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare

Gatling hasn’t ruled out taking the vaccine altogether but says she also does not want to be first.

When referencing the Tuskegee Experiment, “It will always be a nebulous thought in the back of your mind.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says he understands the skepticism within minority communities, but urges them to take it.  

In a recent interview Fauci said, “It really is a process of trying to dissect what the reasons for the skepticism are and to try and address them individually. Fully respecting the underlying skepticism that you have every reason to have for historical reasons to balance those two, that’s how I would approach it.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci also acknowledged in previous interviews that a black woman was in fact at the forefront of developing one of the vaccines.

Credit: Ochner Medical Center

KVEO asked multiple Black Americans if this makes them more inclined to get the vaccine, and many agreed that it is not enough to make them take it.

“I’m excited and really proud that a Black woman was involved in such a high level of management in creating this vaccine, in this historical moment, but I don’t know her,” Gatling said.

Gatling went on to say she’s waiting to see more data, and more responses to the vaccines before she feels more inclined to take it. 

Dr. John H. Krouse, Dean of the UTRGV Medical School, says the medical field has advanced tremendously since the Tuskegee Study. 

Krouse says the vaccine trials, and the rollout we see today is not representative of years past.

“We need to do a better job of communicating, but also making sure that the provider, who takes care of the patients, are people from their groups.” 

Krouse says people who participated in the COVID-19 Vaccine Trials had full consent, in comparison to those who did not in the Tuskegee Experiments. 

Dr. Amy Hay is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

She says she hopes many Black Americans get vaccinated but says the distrust with the vaccine is deeply rooted in history, and disproportionate and adverse treatment in the medical field. She says this treatment dates back to slavery.

“They even made up a disease called Drapetomania, that explained why they [slaves] ran away,” she explained. “So it wasn’t that they were treated brutally, but they had to be crazy to run away from their masters.” 

Hay also went on to reference American Physician, J. Marion Sims as reasons why the Black Community is distrusting of the Covid-19 Vaccine and medical treatment.

“Sims is considered the father of Gynecology, but it turns out he did a series of experiments on Black women,” she said.

And though this history lingers in the thoughts of some, many Black Americans say it may be time to push forward for the greater good. 

George McShan, former School Board Trustee for Harlingen CISD said though the thoughts about the Tuskegee Study lingers in his mind, he will take it as soon as it is available. 

 “We have to understand history, so we don’t repeat it, but we have to move on to the 21st century,” he said.

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