COVID-19 Vaccine and Racial Health Disparities
The new COVID-19 vaccines have offered a great deal of hope to many, and the scientific community must ensure that it is avaliable and accessible to all. Despite African Americans being 1.4 times more likely to contract the virus and 2.8 times more likely to die of it, only 42% of African American adults said they would be likely to get the vaccine, compared to 60% of White and Hispanic adults.
In order to understand why this disparity exists, we must examine the historically strained relationship between African American patients and the medical field. The most commonly cited example is the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment which was sponsored by Public Health Service and overseen by the Surgeon General of the United States. From 1932 to 1972, it aimed to study the natural course of syphilis and tracked approximatley 400 low-income African American males who had syphilis. These men were falsely told they recieved treatment, and research has shown that the experiment is partially responsible for the large gap in life expectancy between Black and White men. The Tuskegee Syphilis experiment is just one of many examples, and the resulting distrust has also compromised many public health efforts, including HIV, tuberculosis, and preventative health programs.
To move forward, we must make the healthcare system more equitable and effectively address the concerns the Black community may have. As Representative Ayanna Pressley tweeted:
Black Lives Matter also means: 1) Any vaccine must have efficacy for those w high blood pressure & diabetes 2) Priority distribution to communities hardest hit by COVID-19 3) A strategy to combat Black Americans vaccine fears & skepticism because of the Tuskegee Experiment etc.
Information regarding the vaccine's efficacy in Black patients, as well as trial participants with preexisting conditions, which are more prevalent in the Black community, must be widely published and at the forefront of conversations aiming to build trust. In addition, healthcare providers must be able to engage in culturally competent discussions with their patients, being able to effectively address any concerns they may have. Caralyst is working to do just that by enabling Black patients to connect with physicians who are familar with or aware of their needs.
One large step towards accomplishing this is acknowledging the key role African American scientists have played in COVID-19 research and the vaccine development process. For example, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an African Amerian scientist at the NIH, held a critical role in working with Moderna to develop one of the mRNA vaccines that recently began being adminsitered to healthcare professionals around the world.