With coronavirus mutations creating new, more contagious variants around the world, health officials say it’s crucial that everyone get vaccinated when it’s their turn.
But many Black Americans remain reluctant, citing a long history of medical abuses has engendered mistrust.
“When I speak to my friends, people I know, my neighbors, most of whom are well informed, they're not biting at the bit,” said New York City resident Rose Strickland.
“One of my closest friends says I'm going to wait. She said, ‘I'm going to wait to see if you grow or tail,’” Strickland said.
Experts say the mistrust can be seen in the lack of diversity among vaccine trial participants.
So far, efforts to diversify the national COVID-19 trial registry have fallen short of the goal for it to reflect the distribution of disease burden within the population.
According to the NIH registry for COVID trials, less than 12% of participants are Black or Latino. While the CDC says, of cases where race was recorded, more than 37% are Black and Latino.
Strickland pointed to the past.
“Is there any wonder that they might not be the first people willing to — their way of thinking — be used as the guinea pigs,” she said.
The abuse of Black slaves in medicine, where they were used as subjects of experiments, is well documented. The scars run deep, even as effigies of scientists once celebrated for their medical breakthroughs, are ripped down in recognition of the crimes committed in the name of research.
“It is not just the legacy of the way Blacks have been treated. It is the current day experiences of discrimination in the health care system that reinforce that mistrust,” said Dr. Lynn Richardson, co-director for the Institute for Health Equity Research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
As public health and political leaders struggle to find ways to convince Black Americans and other affected groups- prioritized in distribution plans- that the vaccine is safe, there’s concern that others who shouldn’t gain early access to the vaccine will fill the void.
"One of the things I worry most is that, you know, people who need the vaccine the most aren't going to be the people who get access to it,” said Kristen Marks, infectious disease researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine.