It’s now been almost a year since the pandemic hit the US, and it has been well documented that the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting Black Americans. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black people are almost 4 times as likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications and almost 3 times more likely to succumb in severe cases. Considering the harm the Black community has endured throughout the course of the pandemic, Black people should ideally be hopeful at the announcement of a vaccine, as it would mark a possible end to the widespread suffering.
In December, a vaccine was approved in the United Kingdom, and the UK government began slowly testing the vaccine on its citizens. Correspondingly, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had also approved Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, shortly after, which planned to enable millions of highly vulnerable Americans to receive emergency vaccinations within a few days. For some, vaccination approvals and distributions in the US, UK, and Canada was good news as it possibly signals some kind of return to normalcy in the future. However, vaccine rollout in America has been rather unsuccessful. The US federal government left decisions up to each state regarding how vaccine distributions would be handled, but many states are not equipped with the resources needed to be effective in medically treating their citizens.
On the other hand, many Black Americans have openly expressed skepticism on social media regarding whether they trust the newly developed COVID vaccine. Notably, these conversations of doubt in the vaccine were sparked after Letitia Wright’s exit from Twitter in December after she shared a conspiracy video attempting to “debunk” the legitimacy of the COVID-19 vaccine as well as Tiffany Haddish spreading misinformation about the vaccine recently on a social media app called Clubhouse.
Many people have rightfully criticized Wright’s and Haddish’s misuse of their large social media platforms in sharing misleading videos or information about the vaccine, as the two are seemingly encouraging their followers to mistrust science. At the same time, others empathized with the two women’s flawed logic, highlighting the need to finally address whatever skepticism Black people have towards the vaccine, why Black people are even skeptical, to begin with, and what can be done to ensure the Black community can eventually trust the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine.
many Black people’s skepticism in the vaccine is justified given what we’ve endured at the hands of white governments.
As a response to people’s skepticism, public figures like Dr. Fauci and former president Obama pledged to take the vaccine in hopes the American populace could be confident in the government’s efforts toward combatting COVID. However, there must be more specific ways the US government can begin to ease distrust of science and medicine within the Black community, who are already an at-risk demographic, as a result of longtime systematic mistreatment towards our community; starting with an acknowledgment of the inherent and historical anti-Blackness within the American healthcare system.
For example, medical racism has proved to have life-threatening consequences for many of us, especially for Black women. The Black community has historically been used as test subjects without our consent, been experimented on, and experienced exploitation within the medical industry to further progress for vaccinations and other disease control methods.
I don’t believe Black people are wrong to distrust science or medicine; in fact, I believe many Black people’s skepticism in the vaccine is justified given what we’ve endured at the hands of white governments. However, I also believe spreading misinformation is unethical. There are more effective ways we can have conversations surrounding science, medicine, and the trust-ability of white governments in a way that is not harmful. We can and should acknowledge the abuse our community has suffered, hold our individual beliefs (within good reason), and question the efforts or intentions of historically oppressive governments. But, at the same time, we should use logic when deciding if and when something is potentially harmful or not.
In the same ways we can question our government’s intentions, we can also conduct research utilizing trusted and fact-checked sources and research the individuals who are confidently and publicly backing the COVID-19 vaccination.
A vaccine announcement doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.
Furthermore, governments must prioritize restoring trust within the Black community to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine has a chance of effectiveness. The American Medical Association (AMA) suggests that “(1) All elected officials affirm evidence-based science and factual data at every turn. (2) The media, including social media platforms, to consistently convey factual information from credible sources while challenging and rejecting misinformation.”
If there is consistency and solidarity amongst American government officials in expressing the severity of this virus without perpetuating right-wing or religious conspiracy theories, it might encourage the more vulnerable communities to trust government-backed COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, the medical community and prominent figures in science and medicine should specifically acknowledge and validate Black people’s skepticism. There needs to be an earnest acknowledgment that governments have failed the Black community and an expression of commitment towards restoring any lost trust going forward.
Notably, a vaccine announcement doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. Rather, a vaccine is just the first step toward combating the coronavirus. In addition, while waiting for the vaccine to be distributed, whether you plan on taking the vaccine or not, we can do our individual responsibility of wearing a mask, social distancing, and continuing to wash our hands. While it’s true that there have been systemic failures on behalf of many of our governments, we can also do our part while this pandemic persists by staying on top of coronavirus updates as well as spreading awareness and accurate, research-backed information within our own communities.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!