Surgeon general urges vaccine education among communities of color

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Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Monday stressed the need for education about the COVID-19 vaccine in communities of color, specifically in Black communities, which have justifiably low levels of trust in health care institutions.

“Having a vaccine is only the first step. We must now move from vaccines to vaccinations. And it would be a great tragedy if disparities actually worsened because the people who could most benefit from this vaccine won’t take it,” Adams said at a press conference from George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. 

“We know that lack of trust is a major cause for reluctance, especially in communities of color. And that lack of trust is not without good reason, as the Tuskegee studies occurred in our lifetimes. To encourage diverse enrollment in clinical trials, we must first acknowledge this real history of mistreatment and exploitation of minorities by the medical community and the government,” he added.

Adams, who is Black, was referring to a project also known as the Tuskegee syphilis study, which was started by the Public Health Service in 1932. The premise of the study was to “record the natural history of syphilis.” The Black men who participated in the study were given free medical exams in payment but were never offered treatment for the disease, even after penicillin became the main form of treatment for syphilis.

While all of the subjects agreed to be part of the study, they did so unaware of the nature of the study and were, in fact, misled by researchers. The federal study wasn’t ended until 1972.

Today, disparities in the health care system have significant negative impacts on Black Americans. Black women are nearly three times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. The U.S.’s Black infant mortality rate is more than two times greater than its mortality rate for white infants. 

Lack of access to quality health care has been highlighted as one of the reasons why COVID-19 has disproportionately devastated communities of color.

On Monday, New York City critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay, who is Black, publicly became the first person in the country to receive the vaccine.

Many current and former leaders, including former President Obama, have said that they would receive the vaccine on camera to help promote its safety and efficacy.

Tags communities of color coronavirus pandemic coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine inoculation Jerome Adams Surgeon general Tuskegee syphilis experiment Tuskegee Syphilis Study Washington D.C.
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