When approval of a Covid-19 vaccine was announced last week, the vaccine became a topic of discussion in many Black families, and mine was no exception. Armed with data reported by news sources like CIDRAP News indicating that Black Americans contract the virus nearly three times more than White Americans, and The Washington News showing that Black patients die from the virus more frequently than White patients, we discussed the option of taking the vaccine as a measure of protection. It was then that I discovered, to my dismay, that some in my family are skeptical about getting the vaccine or are completely opposed for reasons that, quite frankly, are understandable.
Some believe the vaccine is another way to exploit us, referring to the Tuskegee Study, one example of America’s heinous history of medical racism. During the study that occurred over a forty-year period, hundreds of Black men with syphilis were deceived into believing they were receiving treatment for the debilitating disease by medical officials, denied treatment, and refused access to an effective cure once it had been established. As a result, many who participated in the study died.
Some believe the vaccine is unsafe, convinced that the sense of urgency in getting the vaccine through the approval process had less to do with concerns for saving lives or ensuring the safety of the vaccine and more to do with furthering political agendas. “If the government was concerned about saving lives, why were they dead set against wearing masks and social distancing?” One person asked.
Some distrust the government altogether referring to months of misinformation about the virus. “First, we were told the virus would disappear by February, then we were told the virus would disappear in the Summer, then we were told that we were winning the war against the virus, and then we were told there would not be a second wave,” another person said.
And some believe there are “too many unknowns”, referring to the lack of data available related to possible vaccine side effects.
When it comes to skepticism about the vaccine, the people in my family are not alone. According to a study conducted by theKaiser Family Foundation, 35% of Black adults say they definitely or probably will not get vaccinated and the reasons for their hesitance are similar and, in some cases, identical.
The concerns expressed by my family members are valid and I would be remiss not to mention that I share their concerns. But, even so, I’ve made the decision to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to the general population. Why? Because as a fifty-two-year-old, Black American woman with high blood pressure, contracting Covid has the potential of putting me at a greater risk for severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This information coupled with the fact that two people in my immediate family recently tested positive, makes protecting myself against the virus a top priority and something I’m not willing to leave to chance, especially because I have children and grandchildren to consider.Additionally, Covid-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in America. Over the last week, the US averaged more than 219,000 new infections per day and there were more than 18,000 deaths in just the past week according to CNN. And although I’m doing everything I can to reduce the risk of contracting the virus like washing my hands frequently, wearing a mask when I’m in public, and social distancing, I worry that it’s not enough so if the vaccine can add another layer of protection between me and Covid, I’m willing to take it because I believe the risks associated with contracting the virus outweigh the risks associated with taking the vaccine.