Vaccines Myths and Realities
With the rush to produce an effective vaccine and the troubling policies of the current administration, many are concerned about whether the vaccine will be effective or harmful.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted last spring found that African-Americans were 20% less likely to say they would get the COVID-19 vaccine than white and Hispanic-Americans. Also, there have been reports that clinical trials for the coronavirus vaccine have not recruited an adequate number of Black and Latino patients.
Specifically, with the Black community, a primary reason for vaccine hesitancy comes from mistrust of the medical community. The concerns are valid, stemming from a long history of unwilling experimental treatments on Black patients.
Concerned community members usually cite the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, where researchers intentionally did not treat Black syphilis patients to study the disease's effects until death; or Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were studied without her consent, leading to key medical discoveries for which her family was not compensated.
Despite these concerns, Black medical professionals have spoken out in support of the COVID-19 vaccine, arguing that the vaccine is the best chance to mitigate a disease that's disproportionately affecting the Black community.
Suite Life SoCal spoke with Dr. David M. Carlisle, President and CEO of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. As president of the venerated Historically Black Graduate Institution in South Los Angeles, Dr. Carlisle has spoken out multiple times about the importance of the vaccine for communities of color while acknowledging the history behind the Black community's distrust.
“I would encourage patients and individuals to go to providers that they trust and empathize with, and just ask them, is this vaccine going to hurt me or harm me?”
When addressing the skepticism that many Black people have towards the healthcare industry, Dr. Carlisle says, "The vast majority of people in the health care system have nothing but their patients' best interests at heart, and can be trusted. The health care system exists to benefit people. And so when you have a good relationship with a provider, you want to utilize that relationship to get the best care possible. So I usually speak to the fact that health care providers are empathetic, they're sympathetic, they're supportive, and they typically have the patient's best outcomes in mind."
Dr. Carlisle also spoke on the need for people to get the vaccine as soon as it is available, despite concerns that the first vaccine available could be flawed. He emphasized that once a vaccine has reached the point of distribution, it is typically safe.
"Lots of people don't want to be early adopters of anything, especially something that has the potential, hypothetically speaking, to not be a benefit to them. But I think the reality here is that when we have a vaccine that's out of the clinical trial phase, that's actually being distributed, it's being distributed because it's proven to be both safe and efficacious."
"We have to remember that African American communities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. And apart from public health measures, the only advance that we can make to reduce the likelihood somebody can acquire COVID-19 and have a bad outcome will be the vaccine. That will be the next significant step for preventing COVID-19. So literally, people's lives are on the line. And the more people who actually take the vaccine early on, the fewer people will acquire COVID-19. And for a community that's experiencing a disproportionate share of a burden of disease, this is an important consideration."
The main advice Dr. Carlisle has for people who are hesitant about the vaccine: talk to your provider.
"I would encourage patients and individuals to go to providers that they trust and empathize with, and just ask them, is this vaccine going to hurt me or harm me? And I'm sure the answer is going to be overwhelmingly [that] the vaccine for COVID-19 is going to benefit you. And we urge you to receive it. Given the potentially fatal nature of COVID-19, we urge nobody to hesitate to receive the vaccine as soon it's available. You don't want to end up on the wrong side of that equation."