By Andrew Dickens
There’s much talk in the news of a low take-up in Covid vaccinations among people of colour in the US, UK, Africa and beyond. But it’s a scepticism born of horrific and shameful acts by governments and Big Pharma.
Well done, world. Less than a year into a global pandemic we now have quite the menu of vaccines to choose from, with hundreds of millions of doses already administered (albeit with around 75 percent of those jabs in just 10 countries).
The rapid development of the drugs has been hailed as one of the few successes of an otherwise – let’s be kind – clumsy global response to the coronavirus. Under-fire governments who supported this development, usually through large pharmaceutical companies or ‘Big Pharma’, have gladly welcomed such rare praise.
But there is still a hitch. For vaccines to work, enough people have to take them and, putting aside the inequitable distribution, the biggest hurdle here is scepticism.
Scepticism is a broad church. Of course, you have the die-hard anti-vaxxers, for whom all inoculations range from pointless or dangerous to DNA-altering vessels for billionaires’ tracking devices. The more rational sceptics worry about the speed at which these particular vaccines were developed and approved. Some people just don’t like needles.
Most of these groups are so small that their reluctance is insignificant to the larger fight against the virus. But scepticism among many people of colour is most certainly not.
In the US, surveys have consistently shown black Americans as the racial or ethnic group least keen to take a vaccine. Black African populations, too, are highly suspicious.
In the UK, where more than a quarter of the population has already had its first dose, there are worries about the emergence of ‘vaccine poverty’, as areas with large BAME populations have a significantly lower take-up of the jab – leading politicians and celebrities from those communities to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Several explanations are given for this scepticism. Some cite religious beliefs, others a lack of access to information (or too much access to misinformation), and then there are those for whom a language barrier exists, particularly among older immigrants.
However, perhaps the most powerful explanation is that they simply don’t trust those much-lauded governments and Big Pharma. And with very good reason: a gruesome history of often lethal human experimentation on people of colour.
It’s U.S. and them
The most infamous American example is the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. In 1932, the US Public Health Service duped over 600 poor black men into taking part in a study that it said would last for six months but which it stretched out for 40 years. A study that continued even when its funding was stopped.
Researchers told subjects that they would get free health care, but the 399 ‘volunteers’ who had latent syphilis were never told of their diagnosis, nor treated for it. The study led to the deaths of 128 men.
In a focus group run last year by a foundation that supports the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many black participants cited Tuskegee as a reason for their reluctance to take a Covid-19 vaccine.
“I firmly believe that this is another Tuskegee Experiment,” said one.
Tuskegee is merely the tip of a nightmarish iceberg.
“Tuskegee shouldn’t be the first thing people think of,” Harriet A. Washington, author of the book ‘Medical Apartheid’, told TIME magazine in 2017. “It’s the example that the government has admitted to and acknowledged. It’s so famous that people think it was the worst, but it was relatively mild compared to other stuff.”
Source : RT
* Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer on culture, society, politics, health and travel for major titles such as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent, the Daily Mail and Empire.