Is Tuskegee really a reason for black Americans to not get the Covid vaccine?

I’ve seen the Tuskugee Syphilis Experiment cited in numerous articles as a reason for black American distrust of the U.S. government and the Covid vaccines (and the relatively low vaccination rate of African-Americans - reluctance to get the shot.) But I can’t see how the two could be comparable.

Tuskugee was specifically inflicted on black people - you didn’t see white people being used for the experiment. The Covid vaccine, on the other hand, is being, and has already been, injected into people of all races. Millions of whites, millions of Hispanics, millions of blacks, millions of Asians, etc. have already received the shot. There’s no way anyone could target blacks specifically this way. Furthermore, black people have not shown any more signs of ill side effects from the vaccine than anyone else.

Tuskugee was specifically done without consent or being informed of what was going on; the Covid vaccine, on the other hand, is completely voluntary and you’re being told exactly what it contains (a…vaccine.)

I think Tuskegee is just the genesis. I think distrust in the medical community has been passed down from generation to generation since that event.

Applying logic, when there is an inmate mistrust, isn’t going to work. The medical community is going to have to regain that trust first.

Are Black Americans not getting vaxxed at a different rate than others in the same income/education levels?

Anti-vaxxers of any stripe will latch onto any reason, no matter how seemingly irrational.

I would guess that more than 90% of blacks have never heard of the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment.

That would be a really bad guess.

If you use the black population of the world as the population, you might be right.


Edited title to fix spelling

The mistreatment of African Americans throughout history might justifiably make them skeptical about being treated seriously by their own doctor (although I think this is counterproductive and misplaced), or by medical institutions, but it doesn’t make sense here. The injustice of Tuskegee experiments wasn’t that all medicine was a conspiracy to hurt people, or careless enough to hurt people, but specifically that black Americans were targeted with worse, unethical treatment due to the individual and systemic racism of those who conducted those experiments. White people would not have been mistreated the same way, that difference is the discrimination.

But with the COVID vaccine, there is no such discrimination. White, black, rich, poor, we all get the same vaccine. Black people should be able to reason that if it’s good enough to give to the people in society who traditionally receive the best care and all the special treatment, then it’s good for them too. There is no plausible way for the COVID vaccine itself to be discriminatory or particularly harmful towards black people.

So avoiding the COVID vaccine due to racially motivated medical malfeasance from the past is not a rational position.

What I’ve heard said is that it makes sense to be skeptical at first, but after you see it doled out to so many people, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to still hold off. So it maybe justified some initial hesitancy, but not continuing.

That said, do note that the discrepancy between the per capita rates for black and white Americans getting vaccinated are narrowing. And that it’s possible that other factors are at play, like the fact that Black Americans are more likely to be of lower income, and that this can make it harder to take the time off necessary to get the vaccine and deal with the possible side effects. (Sure, the shot itself only takes 15 minutes, but you can wind up not being able to work for a few days afterwards.) Then there are the education level differences.

I’ve seen some states try to blame low vaccination rates on Black or Latino people, and that clearly is not the big issue. Get rid of the per capita, and white people are by far the bulk of people who refuse to get vaccinated.

The Tuskegee Experiment gets a lot of press, but it was neither the first nor the only example of abuse/neglect of African Americans by the medical establishment. How about segregated hospitals? Or J. Marion Sims who bought slave women specifically for the purpose of trying out new forms of surgery and continued to use them for such without anesthesia, even after he started giving white women anesthesia for similar surgery.

Really, sometimes I think it’s a wonder Black people trust doctors at all.

Anaesthesia was not accepted for general medical use when he did his “experiments” like it was later and notes of the time suggest that he did give the then standard pain relievers to his patients.
You can argue all day about the ethics of it and indeed as some have pointed out that experimenting on slaves wasn’t considered particularly ethical at the time (*), but the anaesthesia argument has always rung hollow.

(*) whether or not a slavewoman could give valid consent is another issue, though at least he always claimed he got their permission and their masters did not force them. I personally think that was a self-serving excuse he made to assuage his conscience, but contemporary surgical texts all mention the impossibility of operating on uncooperative patients. :grimacing:
(God bless Dr Morton).

It’s not just the black community in the US. The same problem applies here in the UK and across Europe.

There’s plenty of evidence that differential treatment of Blacks continues today. Many doctors believe that Blacks are not as sensitive to pain and are slower to prescribe pain killers. And there are other issues. That said, it still makes no sense to use these to justify extra vaccine hesitancy, when most whites are getting vaccinated.

Other reasons for hesitancy include not realizing that the shots are free, being unable to take time off work, and not having any convenient vaccination center nearby. I would conjecture that the last two are worse in Republican states.

There are some studies on the subject. A study reported in the local newspaper a few months ago concluded that the reasons for Black hesitancy aren’t all that different from anyone else’s and that the Tuskegee Study was not a big factor. I can’t find the reference for that study, but here’s another:

Yup, there’s no reason to trust them doctors.

Yes, black doctors and community leaders are urging vaccinations, but I assure you that many in the black community are distrustful of doctors. Almost any person of color can tell you a story about the medical establishment failing them in some way. Yes, there is a persistent bias in how people of color are treated by medical professionals. Yes, it seems logical that everyone should answer understand the importance of getting vaccinated, but I can absolutely understand hesitancy in certain communities. As noted, the gap is closing. I hope that time and persistence will keep it narrowing further.

It’s documented that even after he started given anesthesia to his White patients he did not give it to his guinea pig slaves.

Oh, bullshit - slaves had NO agency. They could neither give nor withhold consent. They had no more legal rights than dogs and cats do currently.

Yes, he was marginally better than slave owners who’d simply “put down” a slave like they would a lame horse, or simply not treat a problem and let them die of infection or neglect. That’s a very low bar to get over and doing so does not automatically make you a nice person.

Sure, you could operate on an uncooperative patient - you just needed a few more people to hold the patient down while you did your thing.

Yes, there are many Doctors of Color attempting to convince people to get their shots. There are many Medical People of Color attempting to set a good example by publicly getting their shots, I see them frequently on my local TV stations. If Black people trusted doctors, including doctors that looked like them, these repeated efforts would not be necessary.

Then there is a sub-set of people, in all colors, who simply do not trust doctors at all, for various reasons.

Is there a difference in vaccination hesitancy between white men and white women? I ask because many women also have had negative experiences with medical professionals like their pain not being taken as seriously, sexism, harassment etc. Of course I imagine black and native american women are mistreated the most out of all demographics.

I read just yesterday that twice as many Black babies die before their first birthday as whites. There are doubtless many reasons for this and the Times article did not go into them. Some conjectures: poorer prenatal care, poorer postnatal care, poor blacks can’t afford doctors. It would be interesting to know whether this correlates with economic status. Probably someone has studied this.

I tell you what though…if Black Americans aren’t getting vaccinated, at least they’re wearing masks as directed for non-vaccinated people. Any time I go to the store I see 95% of the Black people are wearing masks, and a very small percent of the white people are wearing them (including me. I’m vaccinated, just paranoid)