Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores, over 500,000 people have died.
We shouldn’t just move on from this. This toll isn’t normal and we shouldn’t treat it as such. It’s not unavoidable or inevitable, either. It is, however, the result of failed leadership in Washington and state legislatures across the country.
Now, as we move on to the vaccine-phase of our “recovery,” the disparities of months past are rearing their ugly heads.
Some of these gaps in vaccine availability may result from injustices at the hands of doctors in Black and Brown history. For hundreds of years, the medical industry has poked and prodded minorities with deadly results and vicious intent.
The Tuskegee Study is the most famous example of this abuse. In 1932, doctors at the Tuskegee Institute set out to investigate syphilis and treatment regimens. Doctors began by giving untreated syphilis to Black males followed by treatments, which proved inadequate. Even when penicillin became available for use, doctors didn’t offer it to the study’s participants. The study continued for 40 years, until an exposé in 1972.
Did we mention that the Black test subjects weren’t told that they were given syphilis?
For 40 years, Black men were subject to a potentially deadly disease without their consent. So, it’s really not surprising that communities of color are hesitant about a vaccine developed so quickly.
Reports have concluded that Black Americans are 20% less likely to want the vaccine than white or Hispanic groups. Unsurprisingly, over a quarter of Black people say they will definitely not get vaccinated. This hesitation is borne from a deeply rooted mistrust of medical figures acting in conjunction with the government.
But if people of color want the vaccine, they don’t have the same access to it as white neighborhoods. Data released by New York City officials found that in mostly white areas of the city, vaccination rates can be up to eight times as high as Black neighborhoods. Data collection is still wanting across the country, where many similar studies have proved inconclusive.
Governors and mayors can drop buzzwords like “equity” and “justice” all they want in press conferences. Unless we distribute vaccines with all of this in mind, it’s just virtue signaling. Our leaders must work hard to overcome the crimes of our nation’s past and assure marginalized groups that the vaccine is safe and necessary.
We must recommit ourselves to a justice-based response and ensure the hardest hit communities are able to overcome the obstacles of history. Simply put, it is criminal to ignore the disparities in vaccine distribution, and COVID-19 itself as we imagine a post-pandemic world. The last year has ripped the thin veil of equality our country has worn for so long.
Now, the entire world can see us for what we are.
Institutional racism is real and must be addressed. Genuine change requires uncomfortable conversations and confronting a troubling reality: A disease may not be discriminatory, but our country surely nudged it in that direction.