Will It Take a Worldwide Pandemic to Overcome Black Mistrust in the Medical Community?

By Joya Wheatfall-Melvin

December 21, 2020

COVID-19 has accounted for nearly two hundred thousand deaths in the United States alone, totaling in 1.17 million deaths internationally. This worldwide pandemic has affected the livelihood of humanity across the globe for an indefinite period of time. And in the United States, the Coronavirus has disproportionately affected the health and livelihood of Black and Brown Communities.

According to data provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20.2% of the African American community has died from the virus. This is completely staggering because African Americans only make up 13% of the United States population (CDC). With the Stage Three Clinical trials for vaccine development, an increased amount of prestigeous pharmaceutical companies are complaining about the lack of Black inclusion in these very influential clinical trials. What's holding us back from helping ourselves? The deep situated mistrust and unethicality between the Black community and the medical community has been well noted since times of enslavement. In addition to these disturbances, the influence of interrelating politics and science provided by the White House Administration has also had an effect on the public considering the efficacy of this vaccine.

Historical Mistrust

Over the years the Medical community has engaged in many unethical practices that have left unhealed scars and open wounds in the Black community. For example, the “Father of Obstetrics”, Dr. J. Marion Sims, was deemed notable in the medical community for many years for his contribution to gynecology and obstetrics as he experimented on female slaves without anesthesia. Also, the widely believed and racially biased myth that African Americans have insensitive nerve endings in comparison to their white counterparts has affected pain treatment for black people. Furthermore, considering the robbing of Henrietta Lacks cervical cells in 1951 and the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis study beginning in 1932 deems an excusable reason to mistrust the medical community and its relations to the Black community.

„It is clear, that in the year 2020, we still have prevalent racism and systemic inequalities that plague the minds and decisions made for the Black community..“
Joya Wheatfall-Melvin

Will it take a worldwide pandemic for our denigration of medical mistrust for the betterment of our afflicted Black Community? It is clear, that in the year 2020, we still have prevalent racism and systemic inequalities that plague the minds and decisions made for the black community. Many believe, including myself, that money and capitalism has trumped over decent actions of humanity, especially in one of the wealthiest institutions, pharmaceutical companies. However, in respect for our smaller population in the U.S., we are the most affected by this disease.

Since we know the eradication of centurial-culminated institutional oppression is NOT in the making to eliminate the health disparities affecting our community, we do know the importance in promoting a vaccine that works on our behalf. The inclusion of Black bodies in the clinical trials of this vaccine are severely needed, in order to validate vaccine efficacy for minorities, as well to heal those who are primarily affected by the virus.

Covid-19 African American Mortality rates

Notable historically black colleges, such as Dillard University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Xavier College have already taken initiative in recruiting those for the clinical trials of this vaccine. Many have expressed their opposition for HBCU participation in the trials via social media. However, it is important for the pharmaceutical companies to use mass media outlets to inform the public about the beneficial effects of minorities in clinical trials, as well as the undoubted medical protection of those participating to ensure trust in the Black community. Active promotion of Black protection and education will heed to unleashed fear about the vaccine. Until that action is taken, the mistrust will continue.