For critically important reasons, there is a national push to persuade hesitant African Americans to become vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. Miracles of modern science, the two FDA-authorized vaccines have arrived with the promise of delivering us from the grip of the pandemic. Yet, for a community whose trust is so often met with betrayal, there is no wonder why some African Americans have embraced the vaccines with skepticism, hesitancy, and six feet of distance. Although this “Tuskegee effect” is a current hot topic, references to medical mistrust are often discussed with a shoulder shrug and a follow-up call to move on from relics of the past. But this matter of history must not be taken lightly because not all expressions of racism are created equal.
Racism that manifests through medical bias and malpractice are distinct from other forms of racism because the injustice is inflicted directly onto Black and Brown bodies. Whether categorized as hate, indifference, or unconscious bias, such forms of social harm—put plainly—are more akin to lynching than the weighty oppression of economic disadvantage or the inconvenience of microaggressions. So, we must take seriously all side-eyes given to new medical interventions claiming to save the day. For many Black and Brown Americans, this kind of suspicion is a front-line, protective measure.
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American scientist who led the coronavirus vaccines & immunopathogenesis team stated it in best on CNN. She said:
You’ve earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process. Trust–especially when it has been stripped from people–has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion. I’m going to do my part in laying those bricks.
In most cases, suspicion should be honored. It drives people to ask questions, research, and seek the information they need to make the best decisions for their health. The newest resource for understanding the COVID-19 vaccines, Better For It, was designed with this in mind. The downloadable guide, developed by The Center for Black Health & Equity in partnership with American Lung Association, invites African Americans to lean into skepticism and learn more about how the COVID-19 vaccines work. Most importantly, the resource answers the question lingering in everyone’s mind: How were these vaccines developed so quickly, and can I trust them?
Decisions about health, immunization, and new vaccines should never be unduly rushed without thorough investigation. The good news is that the information is available. While the Better For It toolkit does not urge readers to take the vaccines, it does provide the information needed to further conversations about it and move readers toward making their own decision. The toolkit may be used to supplement one’s own research on the vaccines, share accurate information on social media, and get to know the contributions of African American scientists and public health advocates who are helping to bring this pandemic to an end. The Better For It toolkit also contains resources, Q&A, and links to COVID-19 webinars hosted by African American civic leaders.