Public/Global Health

Tuskegee relatives join ad campaign to promote COVID-19 vaccinations

Relatives of the Black men who were involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1932 are now collaborating with a national campaign to encourage the public to get the coronavirus vaccine.

Omar Neal, 63, along with nearly half a dozen Tuskegee descendants, is part of an Ad Council public service announcement created to change the minds of those who are hesitant about the vaccine, according to The Associated Press.

Neal, a nephew of Freddie Lee Tyson, a man who unknowingly took part in the federally backed syphilis study, told the news outlet that he was unsure about the COVID-19 vaccine at first, but agreed to be a part of the ad campaign after completing research of his own.

“I want to save lives,” Neal told the AP. “I didn’t want people to use Tuskegee and what transpired there as a reason for not taking the vaccine.”

Throughout the course of the pandemic, federal government officials and local governments have encouraged communities of color and specifically Black communities to get the vaccine amid their hesitancy.

Communities of color have historically had low levels of trust in health care institutions after cruel treatment by the government and medical providers.

The Tuskegee syphilis study, which was started by the Public Health Service in 1932 and continued for 40 years, misled the Black men who participated to undergo free medical exams without ever offering them treatment for the disease, even after penicillin became the main form of treatment for syphilis.

It has been repeatedly referenced as a reason for vaccine hesitancy.

’’Don’t deny ourselves the opportunity the men were denied,” Tyson’s 76-year-old daughter, Lillie Tyson Head, said in one of the ads released Wednesday.

“It’s really up to us to take ownership of our health and this story,” Carmen Head Thornton, the granddaughter Tyson called his “Carmen girl,’’ said in another ad.

Vaccinations in the U.S. have been proven to prevent infection of COVID-19, and reduce severity of symptoms and hospitalizations.

Nearly 46 percent of the total U.S. population are fully vaccinated, and 54 percent have gotten at least their first shot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Tags coronavirus vaccine Tuskegee syphilis experiment Tuskegee Syphilis Study

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