“I don’t care who says that vaccine is safe. I’m not getting it. There’s no way I’m going to put foreign entities in my body.” These were the words of one of my oldest friends. A Black woman whom I’ve known for more than 25 years.
I listened to her words intently and without judgement. She went on: “These people have no idea what the long-term effects of this vaccine are. They don’t know if the vaccine will prevent us from getting COVID. They just don’t know.” “I agree”, I finally responded. “They don’t know what the long-term impact of this vaccine will be. But they do know what the outcome of COVID is — for many of us that is.” “I hear you”, I kept saying, “I get your distrust. I’m skeptical too. But I don’t feel like I have great choices right now. I just have to hope that this time they got it right because I’m going to have to go back to work regardless and if I don’t get the vaccine, it will only be a matter of time before I get COVID. So, I just have to hope”, I said.
Vaccine hesitancy has been the topic of much conversation in recent months. Black and Latinx communities are among the hardest hit by the corona virus but they are also reported to be the most hesitant to getting vaccinated. Public health workers throughout the country are pitching all sorts of solutions to this problem. We need to start an educational campaign to teach folks that the vaccine is safe. We need to make prominent people of color who are getting vaccinated more visible proponents of vaccination. Some have even suggested that we need to offer Black and Latinx people a monetary incentive to get vaccinated.
These well-intentioned solutions will ultimately be limited in helping us achieve herd immunity in the United States because none of these solutions get at the core of the distrust that Black and Latinx people feel. None of these solutions address the history of racist medical abuse that Black and Latinx individuals have been subject to since the beginning of time. These solutions do not offer a reckoning. They do not offer reparations. They do not offer assurance that medical institutions have improved upon the racial biases that led to the medical abuses in the first place. Without that, all of these campaigns to vaccinate Black and Latinx communities will fail.