Racial inequality in US a major hurdle for COVID-19 vaccine distribution
Despite the potential for a coronavirus vaccine within weeks, distrust of the US medical community by Black and Latino people, who have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, remains high.
Fueled by a dark history of medical experimentation and unequal access to care, people in Black and Latino communities struggling with high Covid-19 rates are among those least likely to get vaccinated, health advocates say.
Overcoming systemic racism and the collective trauma associated with it will be paramount as officials rush to distribute vaccines to hard-hit communities, they warn.
"The people who need it the most are the same who don't trust it," said Sernah Essien of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, an international advocacy group working to ensure equitable vaccine access. "Without considering racial equity, we deepen the cracks that systemic racism has already created in our health care system."
A top adviser to President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press that addressing the racial disparities cannot be overlooked as the nation continues to battle the coronavirus, which has infected more than 15 million people in the US and killed nearly 290,000.
Rates of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 among Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans are two to four times higher than for whites, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Black and Latino people also report higher levels of vaccine hesitancy and distrust compared to white Americans, according to a recent survey by the COVID Collaborative, a coalition of national experts on health, education and the economy.
Fewer than half of Black adults said they would definitely or probably get coronavirus vaccines if they were free. Just 18 percent said they would definitely get vaccinated regardless of the cost, according to the survey.
The findings were more troubling when it came to the question of trust. Just 14 percent of Black adults and 34 percent of Latinos said they trust vaccine safety, and three-quarters of both Black and Latino respondents said they are less likely to get a vaccine.
"It's not an accident that Black and brown people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic," said Priti Krishtel, a co-founder of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, an international nonprofit that campaigns to make pharmaceuticals accessible and affordable. "Structural racism is embedded in our health care system."
One of the most egregious examples was a 1932 study of syphilis in Black men. Called the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, it was undertaken by the U.S. Public Health Service with the stated aim of learning more about the disease and eventually justifying a treatment program for Black men.
Decades later, in 1972, a news report found that men who participated in the study had been misled about its purpose and were denied treatment, which caused needless pain and suffering. Even when penicillin became widely used to treat syphilis in 1947, it was not offered to the test subjects.