Health Equity Warrior Resource Update March 2021
"If you continue to use [the Tuskegee Study] as a way of explaining why many African Americans are [vaccine] hesitant, it almost absolves you of having to learn more, do more, involve other people- admit that racism is actually a thing today."
- Karen D. Lincoln, PhD, USC Professor of Social Work
There has been a lot of talk about BIPOC (Black & Indigenous People of Color) rejecting the COVID19 Vaccine due to fear, based on a history of being subjected to experimentation, exploitation, and abuse by the government, medical institutions, and healthcare providers. The most widely referenced example of this is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. However, communities of color have current-day reasons to be wary of a vaccine developed and distributed by the government during a time of widespread misinformation, conspiracy theories, and overt racism. Vaccine Hesitancy is more likely to be related to experiencing systemic racism while navigating healthcare systems today than it is rooted in the recent past.
Similarly, the early narrative about BIPOC being most likely to die from COVID focused on the high rates of comorbidities like diabetes and heart disease in communities of color. Pundits were quick to blame the racially and economically marginalized for their own poor health rather than acknowledge the Social Determinants of Health that put frontline workers and the working poor at greater risk of dying from COVID. It is easier to blame BIPOC for health disparities than to acknowledge the privilege of working from home and earning a living wage or to address the lack of access to quality healthcare, reliable childcare, and paid time off.
I experienced this first hand when attempting to assist my 82-year-old mother with getting a COVID vaccine appointment. She was initially skeptical about getting the vaccine but decided to be vaccinated after carefully weighing the risks and benefits. Vaccine Hesitancy was not a barrier to her receiving the vaccine. Navigating technology to schedule an appointment online, traveling to limited vaccine locations, an even more limited vaccine supply, and other Social Determinants of Health are the reasons that the most vulnerable in our community, who want the vaccine remain at risk while those with resources and access jump to the front of the line.
I encourage you to further explore the counter-narrative to vaccine hesitancy by reading the brief and interesting article: No, the Tuskegee Study Is Not the Top Reason Some Black Americans Question the COVID-19 Vaccine. Health equity has to be our goal as we continue to navigate this pandemic marathon.
The Health Equity NP