In part 6 of our Black Lives Matter series, we take a look at efforts currently being made to ensure the Covid-19 vaccine is distributed equitably—particularly after it was quickly realized that white people were getting vaccinated at significantly higher rates than Black citizens. We also take a look at how historical medical-mistreatment of Black citizens by the United States government is at least partly to blame for their hesitancy in getting vaccinated against Covid-19.
Much of the distrust towards the government and CDC is rooted in a whole lot of very real mistreatment and abuse of Black Americans at the hands of doctors and scientists, all while being paid for and condoned by the United States federal government. In fact one of the most egregious examples of this type of racially motivated abuse was the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
In 1932, 600 Black men from Macon County, Alabama were recruited to take part in the study. These men were not informed of what the study was for or why they were recruited. Those who had syphilis were not only kept in the dark on their own diagnoses, but they were repeatedly prevented from receiving treatment.
The study, which was initially slated to last for 6 to 12 months, wound up lasting for 40 years. It likely would have continued even longer had it not been for a whistleblower named Peter Buxton. When the study was terminated in 1972, only 74 of the original syphilis-positive men were still alive. 28 had died of syphilis, 100 had died of related complications, 40 wives of the men had been infected and 19 children had been born with congenital syphilis; all at the hands of the United States government.
The study was both medically unjustified and morally bankrupt. It was a racist undertaking from start to finish and did permanent damage to the relationship between government-run public health and our country’s Black citizens.
As a result of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, congress passed the National Research Act, outlining policies and procedures for conducting human trials in the United States.
Prior to the act, no standards existed preventing the abuse of marginalized and vulnerable Americans from being harmed in the name of science. Although the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is the most extreme example of this type of violence, it wasn’t the only one that took place. There were many, many more.
We close this episode with a look at a few of these other “studies” and we examine the steps currently being taken to assure Black Americans (and essentially all Americans) that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe, effective and vital for the well-being of our public health.
We hope it will be enough.
McGhee, Heather. (February 2021) “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together”.