Government, vaccine distrust is epidemic amongst people of color in America


Photo courtesy Ariana Shariati

Senior Ariana Shariati received her first COVID-19 vaccine dose in April.

Despite 800,000 COVID-related deaths in the US, one out of four US citizens still refuse to get the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven by the FDA to be safe and effective, however, many people and groups of people have hostility against the shot. Different demographics of people have different reasons to avoid the vaccine. Black people in America have historically been used as guinea pigs in medical treatments, without their full knowledge or consent – fully justifying a vaccine fear (NIH).

While 70.2% of the US population has at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, 14% of Americans refuse to get vaccinated- 69% white, 7% Black and 12% Hispanic/Latinx. Also notable, 58% are Republicans and only 18% Democrats (VoaNews). Black and Hispanic/Latinx Americans are two to three times more vulnerable to getting sick or dying from COVID due to poorer healthcare in areas of predominantly people of color.

Based on these statistics, we can infer that white people and members of the Republican Party are more likely to stay away from the COVID-19 vaccine, generally due to right-wing conspiracy theories such as the vaccine causing autism, auto-immune diseases and infertility, containing a microchip so that the government can track individuals or rewriting one’s DNA. None of these are scientifically (and logically) correct, nor is there evidence proving these things. 

For Black Americans, there are numerous examples of government medical mistreatment (Duke University). For example, The Tuskegee Experiment of 1932-1972, which involved about 400 impoverished African-American men who, unknowingly, had syphilis. The experimenters knew and chose not to inform the men of their diagnosis nor treat them, despite there being effective treatment by the end of the experiment. Men died and transmitted the disease to their wives because the government did not fully inform them, gain their consent or make the ethically correct decision to save their lives. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology,” experimented and practiced vaginal surgery on enslaved women without the use of anesthesia.

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer at 31 years old. On her deathbed, doctors – without her or her family’s consent – harvested cells that would become the first immortal cells and are used and reproduced to this day (HeLa cells). Her family was not given financial compensation until recently through donations.

It’s important to understand the difference in refusal between these two groups. One is based off of irrational conspiracy theories designed to fulfill a political agenda and the other is based upon ongoing historical untruthfulness, torture and oppression.

These racially motivated disparities have incited a deeply rooted distrust in the government and medicine for Black Americans, paired with a gap in quality/availability to healthcare, a gap in vaccine refusal and sickness/death rates. While there is no simple solution to this generational fear, improved healthcare and education may one day be able to build trust between Americans and their government, leading to lower fear, illness and death rates.