U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams cautioned that black Americans have a distrust of the COVID-19 vaccine due to America’s history of medical racism by using them as guinea pigs in health experiments.
Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Jerome Adams said that he has an uphill battle to persuade black Americans to take the vaccine.
“I know that long before COVID, there were many diseases ― hypertension, cancer, diabetes ― that were plaguing communities of color,” Adams said, as reported by HuffPo. “And COVID just unveiled those disparities that have been around for a long time.”
Only about 35% of black adults have said they would take the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Kaiser Foundation’s COVID-19 vaccine monitor for December. When asked, most respondents expressed fear that the vaccine would infect them with the actual virus. Jerome Adams did not dismiss this sentiment, noting that it “comes from a real place.”
“I’ve talked previously about the history of the mistreatment of communities of color,” he said. “The Tuskegee experiment, the terrible treatment of Henrietta Lacks and her family and how they just took her cells without her permission.”
Henrietta Lacks had cells taken from her body for medical research without her permission in the 1950s while undergoing treatment for cervical cancer.
“The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was a program in which government-appointed doctors studied the disease’s progression in about 400 Black men without their informed consent from 1932 through 1972,” reported HuffPo. “Doctors withheld treatment while the men experienced conditions such as blindness or extreme psychological distress. Some of the experiment’s subjects unknowingly passed the disease on to loved ones before they died.”
Adams said that he understands the responsibility he has as a black man serving as the Surgeon General, given the office’s dark legacy.
“It actually comes from my office, several surgeons general oversaw for 40 years the Tuskegee studies where treatment was denied to Black men,” he said, citing his past public statements. “And I walk past their pictures every single day when I go into my office. So believe you me, this legacy is important to me, and helping restore that trust is important.”
Adams attempted to assuage some discomfort by noting that he lives up to his promises.
“What I want to tell people most of all is: I walk the talk. I got vaccinated on Friday. I actually feel great. My mother-in-law and my mother are watching, and they’ve been asking me all weekend, ‘How are you feeling?’ I feel great,” Adams said. “And I hope people will get the vaccine based on information that they get from trusted resources. Because it’s OK to have questions. What’s not OK is to make poor health decisions based on misinformation.”
The spike in deaths among black Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic previously has been blamed on systemic racism.
“A long and well-documented history of systematic discrimination against Black people regularly leads to worse underlying health conditions for African-Americans that make it more likely they become severely ill during this pandemic and die from the disease,” wrote Christian Weller in Forbes. “For decades, scientists have studied the various factors that contribute to the harm that African-Americans are now suffering. None of this is a mystery. It is high time that these insights translate into sustained policy actions to prevent the unnecessary suffering and deaths among African-Americans.”
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