To combat vaccine hesitancy in minority communities we must address past wrongs: Surgeon General
The coronavirus pandemic has created health inequalities across the country, with COVID-19 disproportionately affecting African Americans. And studies show that African Americans and people of color refuse to get vaccinated against the disease because of past abuse, citing the infamous Tuskegee experiment that turned black men with syphilis into medicinal guinea pigs.
"We know that lack of confidence was a major cause of reluctance, especially in color communities, and that lack of confidence is not without reason, as the Tuskegee study was conducted in many of our own lifetimes," surgeon general Jerome Adams said last week.
However, some health experts say Adams' message and those who like it are coming too late as the introduction of the vaccine is already underway.
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"I think it may have been a valuable conversation a few months ago when Operation Warp Speed (OWS) was first designed and implemented," said Dr. Michael Williams, Director of the University of Virginia Health Center Politics.
“So talking about Tuskegee [and] many other similar events in ... US history ... is double-edged. It is critical that Americans understand that many of those who experienced it, directly or indirectly, are still alive, "Williams said.
In this 1950s photo, published by the National Archives, a man involved in a syphilis study sits on steps outside a house in Tuskegee, Ala. Starting in 1932, medical workers in the Separated South withheld for 40 years treating unsuspecting infected men with a sexually transmitted disease so doctors could follow the ravages of the terrible disease and then dissect their bodies. Definitely debunked in 1972, the trial ended and the men sued, resulting in a $ 9 million settlement. (National Archives via AP)
The importance of addressing "past mistakes"
Adams, who spoke at a vaccination launch where health workers at the George Washington University Medical Center received the newly approved vaccine from Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX), said it was important for the nation to address past mistakes, including tuskegee .
“To truly combat vaccine reluctance and encourage diverse participation in clinical trials, we must first acknowledge this real history of abuse and exploitation of minorities by medical communities and government. Then we have to explain and demonstrate everything that has been done to correct these errors, ”said Adams.
In 1932, the public health service, in collaboration with what was then the Tuskegee Institute, began a decade-long medical experiment called the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Negro Men" to investigate "complete progression of the disease". “At the time, there was no known treatment for the highly contagious and fatal STD.
Around 600 black men (399 with syphilis and 201 without) in Macon County, Alabama participated in the study, which was lured by the promise of free medical care, free meals, and funeral insurance. The researchers did not tell the sick men their diagnosis or the real purpose of the study. The men were given placebos and ineffective treatments long after penicillin became an effective treatment for the disease in the late 1940s.
By 1972, when a journalist exposed the unethical "study", 28 men in the study had died of syphilis, 100 had died from the related complications, and at least 40 spouses had contracted the disease, with about 19 children born with syphilis.
President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore assist Herman Shaw, 94, a victim of the Tuskegee syphilis trial, during a news conference on Friday, May 16, 1997. Clinton apologized to black men whose syphilis was left untreated by government doctors. (AP Photo / Doug Mills)
Reaching the Indian communities
Black Americans aren't the only patients with reasons to suspect vaccines. US officials are also trying to promote vaccine awareness campaigns in Native American communities that have long experienced systemic abuse and unethical treatment by the US federal government. At an event on December 9th, US Secretary of Health Alex Azar pointed out the hurdles in getting vaccines to tribal peoples.
"OWS has worked with CDC and these jurisdictions so that we have everything that is needed for the vaccine to be given ... and plans for how to get the vaccine into hard-to-reach areas and populations such as tribal nationals and residents' care facilities," said Azar.
Daniel Dawes, director of the Satcher Health Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine, said social determinants of health (factors such as people's lives and access to healthy food) have been exacerbated by the pandemic and need to be addressed.
“As we work in the short term to ensure equitable access to the vaccine, we cannot lose sight of the decline in health outcomes and widening health inequalities in the United States because we have not addressed the root causes of these problems. The path out of this pandemic is parallel to the path to health justice, and the path to health justice will only be paved if the US seriously addresses the upstream factors and investing the resources necessary to help every community thrive, ”said Dawes told Yahoo Finance.
Public awareness or reflection?
It was no accident that the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States was an African-American intensive care nurse at Northwell Health. Numerous health systems have highlighted at least one colored person at their vaccination launch events.
"Given the long history of distrust and poor treatment of people of color by the US healthcare system, we're trying to send a message," said Williams of UVA.
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14: Dr. Michelle Chester, right, rolls up the sleeve of Sandra Lindsay, a nurse at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, before being given the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Jewish Medical Center in the New York City borough on December 14, 2020 Queens. (Photo by Mark Lennihan - Pool / Getty Images)
Given the highest risk of developing COVID-19 belonging to African American, Latin American, or Indigenous populations, there is a need to strengthen health workers, he said.
LatinX and Hispanics face discrimination within the health system, according to several studies, and also need better communication.
"The goal ... is to send a very strong and clear message that not only is the vaccine safe, but that it is vital that those at greatest risk get it early in the pandemic Response received, "said Williams.
Dr. However, Uché Blackstock, a Yahoo News medical worker, suggested that such a media camera should send a mixed message.
“Some have expressed that the # COVID19 vaccine photo ops and videos with black healthcare workers are persistent and eager to target blacks. I can't be mad at this attitude. We need to strike a middle ground for vaccine news, ”Blackstock said.
Finding that middle ground will be a constant challenge for future administrations, even as President-elect Joe Biden has appointed an overwhelming number of minorities in key roles.
Former US surgeon general Dr. Richard Carmona told Yahoo Finance that this was key. He told Yahoo Finance that more minorities need to be in key health care positions in order to "speak with integrity to the science of a problem."
"Politics is as deadly as the virus in some cases because we remain a divided nation," said Carmona.
More from Anjalee:
The COVID-19 peak should hit the US in mid-January: experts
What you need to know about over-the-counter COVID-19 testing at home
Biden COVID-19 Advisor: Vaccine news is great, but we still have a long way to go
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