Since the outbreak of COVID-19 from a province in Wuhan, China, scientists have been working at breakneck speed to get the pandemic under control and find a vaccine. The hardest-hit areas are urban centers in progressive enclaves like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – places that are heavily populated with minority populations.
Although progress has been made on the vaccine front, there is still a major concern with distribution and the fact that many in the Black community do not trust the government in this effort. Some worry about this but the reality is that the impact of past government efforts, like the Tuskegee experiment, contributes to vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans.
The Tuskegee experiment is well known and was chronicled, best in James H. Jones book Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. The experiment, started by the United States the Public Health Service in concert with the then called Tuskegee Institute, examined and researched the natural history of syphilis in Blacks and Black men specifically. The complete title of the investigation was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”
From 1932-1972, this treatment less and unethical experiment that targeted more than 400 Black male sharecroppers infected with syphilis, continued without any issue. At the start, it enrolled 600 black men – 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease and without the use of the participants’ informed consent. James’ title of his book came about because researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood.” Originally projected to last six months, the study went on for 40 years causing death and despair, not only to the subjects, but equally their wives, family and community.
This is a real issue, for in many cases Black Americans must be skeptical of anything rolled out so fast. And given our being a cautious populace, it doesn’t make anything better when white mainstream television shows such as Saturday Night Live (SNL) make fun at our expense, pertaining to our legitimate mistrust of the federal government based on an accurate historical record. The Black cast of SNLs making fun of the Black community’s hesitancy of getting the COVID 19 vaccine is nothing to laugh or joke about.
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