Why are Black Americans suspicious of COVID vaccines?

Credit: Gallo Images/Beeld/Felix Dlangamandla
Credit: Gallo Images/Beeld/Felix Dlangamandla

Although the first two large clinical trials of [COVID-19] candidate vaccines have managed to include about 3,000 Black participants each, it hasn’t been easy. And later trials might have even more trouble.

Polls show that among racial and ethnic groups, Black Americans are the most hesitant to get a vaccine once one becomes available, and their skepticism is rising fast. In one September survey, only 32% of Black adults said they would get a vaccine, down from 54% in May.

In a recent focus group run by a foundation that supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Black participants brought up systemic racism for their hesitancy and cited the government-backed Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which Black men were told they were getting free medical care but instead were denied therapy for their syphilis for decades.

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“I firmly believe that this is another Tuskegee Experiment,” one focus group member said.

“We are the ones who are the guinea pigs for the rich,” another said.

Without adequate Black and Hispanic participation in clinical trials, it won’t be clear whether the vaccine will be safe and effective for them.

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And if people don’t get vaccinated, they will remain vulnerable to the virus, which has ravaged communities of color in particular.

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