The Black Community has had a rocky relationship with COVID and misinformation. Have things improved?
According to recent data by KFF, only 10% of the African American community is vaccinated. In comparison, 55% of White people are vaccinated, despite the fact that they are (in terms of racial demographics) less at risk to be hospitalized/dying as a result of COVID. There’s no question here as to exactly why Black people are not likely to be vaccinated. The rationale can be placed (almost reductively) into two main boxes, one is a lack of access, and two (notably) is the mass sweep of misinformation.
Early into the COVID vaccine, theories ranged from 5G tracking microchips being inside of it, to the vaccine itself being designed to harm the Black community. The Black community’s mistrust of the medical community, while played upon by conspiracy theorists, is understandable, considering the way Black people have been treated throughout the global pandemic, and considering our history with the medical field as a whole.
One of the key arguments regarding vaccine hesitancy is the Tuskegee experiment, where Black men with syphilis were gathered and monitored to study the advancement of the condition. Participants were not given penicillin despite it being a recommended treatment, and they (researchers) convinced physicians not to treat the participants. By the time a story about the experiment had been broken, 28 people had died from syphilis, 100 from complications related to syphilis and the disease had been passed on to spouses and children. This is not the only case of the medical system using and failing Black people (famously, Black women were experimented on by “the father of modern gynecology” James Marion Sims), but it exhibits how willingly people in power will withhold information from Black people that can lead to our suffering. So, you have anti-vaxxers such as conservative political commentator Candace Owens linking vaccination efforts to this experiment, ignoring the fact that the experiment was limited to Black men (i.e. the vaccine likely would not be given out to people of all races in the first place) and that wealthy White people have been found making appointments in underserved communities. There is also the argument that the immune system of Black people is stronger, and in turn, Black people are not as heavily impacted. However, as stated earlier this could not be farther from the truth. Black people are more likely to be hospitalized and die as a result of COVID.
According to NPR, in April 2020, when testing centers were being disbursed, in part to allow for tracking of the virus, the Black community was being deprived of sites despite having higher cases and fatalities related to COVID as opposed to the White community. This lack of testing sites, as Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo (who served as a lead epidemiologist for John Hopkins in their COVID Testing Insights Initiative) stated, offered a narrow lens, which could potentially lead to large outbreaks.
“If you’re casting a very small net, and you’re shining a flashlight on a small portion of infections that are out there, you might think you’re doing OK. Whereas there’s this whole pool of infections that you haven’t seen,” Dr. Nuzzo said.
Even with testing centers made available to Black people, there is a number of other difficulties such as a lack of transportation and the cost of testing for the uninsured, there were still a number of barriers for people who needed to be tested. Now, tests are being given out via mail (with three-handed out per family), but this only took place after COVID once again spiked, with added variants. However, even this holds some continued racial inequities, as the KFF points out.
“Compared to their White counterparts, people of color have faced an increased risk of exposure to the virus, suffered more illness and death, and faced more barriers to accessing protective equipment, testing, care, and treatment, as well as vaccines,” KFF said.
Recently, a report released by The Black Coalition Against COVID showed that older Black Americans are five times more likely to die from COVID, with 1 in 310 Black children more likely to lose a caregiver to COVID (a large disparity from the 1 in 738). These issues are not the result of any genetic/racial component, it’s a result of “social and structural realities,” such as Black people primarily working as essential workers and living in more densely populated areas. Despite the fact that COVID very much still appears to be a threat to Black people, and despite the variants that have popped up, there’s still heavy denial of the vaccine and boosters, so what can be done to repair this? Well, no one can be forced to take anything even if it is very clear for the greater good (i.e. mass immunization). The Black Coalition Against COVID recommends encouraging vaccination and ensuring access to COVID therapies and testing.