Vaccine hesitancy: a real problem in the Black community

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Don’t let fear and misinformation lead to bad decisions

The good news is that there will soon be a third vaccine available, with several others to follow. Vaccination is the beginning of the end of this pandemic. Currently, there are the Pfizer and Moderna versions that utilize messenger RNA technology.

According to CDC/FDA testing, messenger RNA technology is both safe and effective. The third vaccine by AstraZeneca is more of a traditional vaccine in which a real (harmless) virus contains parts of the COVID-19 virus and is used to produce an immunologic response (immunity).

Shockingly, 40% of African Americans surveyed said they still would not take the vaccine even knowing that it is safe and effective. The issue of vaccine hesitancy is also a problem in the Somali, Latino, Hmong and Indigenous communities.

The hesitancy is a result of fear. The United States has a poor track record when it comes to the medical community and its treatment of Blacks. As a result, the skepticism by Blacks runs deep, looms large, and is earned. 

The most noted experiment on Blacks was “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” This was an unethical study conducted by the Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office.

Three hundred Black men infected with syphilis were observed from 1932 until 1972 to see how the disease affected them. They were neither told of their disease nor treated, even when a cure became available in 1947.

And then there was Dr. Marion Sims. Often lauded as a pioneer in the development of female surgeries, he conducted many experiments and surgeries on Black women, mostly slaves, without any anesthesia or pain medicines.

There is also the case of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells were taken from her body without consent and used worldwide for medical research. The medical community needs to admit these atrocities, apologize, and explain why the Black community should not fear the COVID vaccine.

In fairness, those were different medical communities, different times, and different medical situations. As a result of these cruelties committed on Blacks, several agencies now oversee human research. These include The U.S. Office of Research Protection, multiple governmental independent research safety monitoring boards, and research review committees from both the FDA and CDC with People of Color that specifically review, approve and oversee governmental research on humans. 

In fact, one of the lead researchers in the development of the COVID vaccine was an African American research scientist, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. The very first person to get the vaccine in the U.S. was Sandra Lindsay, a Black nurse. She said she saw firsthand, in her patients, how devastating the coronavirus was, and she wanted to assure the Black community that the vaccine was both safe and important.

Blacks are four times more likely to be hospitalized and three times more likely to die if they get COVID instead of Caucasians. This elevated death rate has to do with underlying health care conditions in Blacks. These are, in part, due to health care disparities, including access to health care.

When discussing health care disparities, we need to speak about historical wrongs and the current wrongs. This includes many pre-existing social conditions that perpetuate health care disparities, including transportation, decent-paying jobs, food insecurities, and safe and affordable housing. 

Trust of the previous administration was another problem. After George Floyd’s death, peaceful protests (of over 100 people) were held in over 5,000 cities across the U.S. Many of these peaceful protests were held every night, for weeks, and even months.

The U.S. president did not offer a single address to the country, ever, dedicated to addressing the racial tension, distrust, and hurt gripping the country. He made no attempts to bring care, understanding, and comfort to the country.

No wonder then that Blacks had no confidence in the administration or any of their vaccine efforts. People need to know you care before they care what you know. Our past administration was nothing short of an abject failure in this regard. 

COVID quick facts

  • The vaccine is approved for ages16 and up, but ongoing trials are looking at people ages 5-15
  • Getting the vaccination while nursing or pregnant is a decision to be made with your physician.
  • Vaccines won’t win the war against COVID; VACCINATIONSwill.

The bottom line

I have reviewed the vaccine studies and agree that they are safe and effective. We don’t need 100% of people to get vaccinated, but we do need 70-80% to break the back of this pandemic.

There is lots of horrible information out there and on the internet about COVID vaccination. Don’t let false information cause you to make bad decisions that affect your health adversely. No one has died from the vaccine, but almost 500,000 people have been killed by the coronavirus in the U.S.

If you have questions about the vaccine, talk to someone knowledgeable and who you trust. Talk to your doctor and your pharmacist. 

When it comes time for you to get the vaccine, roll up your sleeve. It is patriotic. It is good for you, your family, and your community.  

About Charles Crutchfield III MD

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and a Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor of biology at Carleton College. He also has a private practice, Crutchfield Dermatology in Eagan, MN. He received his MD and Master’s Degree in molecular biology and genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Minnesota Medicine recognized Dr. Crutchfield as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. Dr. Crutchfield specializes in skin-of-color and has been selected by physicians and nurses as one of the leading dermatologists in Minnesota for the past 18 years. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations and president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians. He can be reached at CrutchfieldDermatology.com or by calling 651-209-3600.

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