New COVID-19 vaccine resource honors skepticism among Black Americans

Dr.-Kizzmekia-Corbett-and-Anderson-Cooper-CNN, New COVID-19 vaccine resource honors skepticism among Black Americans, National News & Views
Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is an African American scientist who led the coronavirus vaccines and immunopathogenesis team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). She’s pictured here on CNN, where she stated to Black people rightly skeptical of the vaccine: “You’ve earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process.”

by LaTroya Hester, The Center for Black Health and Equity

For critically important reasons, there is a national push to persuade hesitant African Americans to become vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. Miracles of modern science, the two FDA-authorized vaccines have arrived with the promise of delivering us from the grip of the pandemic. 

Yet, for a community whose trust is so often met with betrayal, there is no wonder why some African Americans have embraced the vaccines with skepticism, hesitancy and six feet of distance. Although this “Tuskegee effect” is a current hot topic, references to medical mistrust are often discussed with a shoulder shrug and a follow-up call to move on from relics of the past. 

This matter of history must not be taken lightly, because not all expressions of racism are created equal. Racism that manifests through medical bias and malpractice are distinct from other forms of racism because the injustice is inflicted directly onto Black and Brown bodies. 

Whether categorized as hate, indifference or unconscious bias, such forms of social harm, put plainly, are more akin to lynching than the weighty oppression of economic disadvantage or the inconvenience of microaggressions. So, we must take seriously all side-eyes given to new medical interventions claiming to save the day. 

“You’ve earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process. Trust – especially when it has been stripped from people – has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion. I’m going to do my part in laying those bricks.”

For many Black and Brown Americans, this kind of suspicion is a front-line, protective measure. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an African American scientist who led the coronavirus vaccines and immunopathogenesis team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC), stated it best on CNN. 

She said: “You’ve earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process. Trust – especially when it has been stripped from people – has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion. I’m going to do my part in laying those bricks.”

In most cases, suspicion should be honored. It drives people to ask questions, research and seek the information they need to make the best decisions for their health. The newest resource for understanding the COVID-19 vaccines, “Better For It,” (https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/covid-19/action-initiative/vaccine-toolkit) was designed with this in mind. 

The downloadable guide, developed by The Center for Black Health and Equity in partnership with the American Lung Association, invites African Americans to lean into skepticism and learn more about how the COVID-19 vaccines work. Most importantly, the resource answers the question lingering in everyone’s mind: How were these vaccines developed so quickly? Can I trust them?

Decisions about health, immunization and new vaccines should never be unduly rushed without thorough investigation. The good news is that the information is available. While the guide does not urge readers to take the vaccines, it does provide the information needed to further conversations about it and move readers toward making their own decision. 

The toolkit may be used to supplement one’s own research on the vaccines, share accurate information on social media, and get to know the contributions of African American scientists and public health advocates who are helping to bring this pandemic to an end. The Better For It tool kit also contains resources, a question and answer section and links to COVID-19 webinars hosted by African American civic leaders.

LaTroya Hester received her ABJ and MA from the University of Georgia and is director of communications at The Center for Black Health and Equity. She also manages external communications and events, including State of Black Health National Conference and No Menthol Sunday. She can be reached at lhester@centerforblackhealth.org.