In order to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates, the medical community must regain trust within black communities

By Charlotte Whelchel

The first time I had learned about discrimination within the healthcare system surprisingly was from Grey’s Anatomy, a show about doctors within a hospital saving lives. While there are many inaccuracies in Grey’s Anatomy in terms of how the healthcare system actually works, the show often uses its large following to confront important societal issues.  Over the centuries, black people have faced many injustices within the healthcare system, both large and small. One of the statistics I have found most frightening is one from NPR that states that black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth in comparison to white women. While this is a shocking statistic, in many ways it only represents a small portion of the injustices suffered by black people within healthcare.

While people of color are often mistreated and disproportionately affected by the healthcare system in comparison to white people, this idea returned to the forefront of the news with the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Brookings, in almost all US states there was a higher contraction rate of COVID-19 within the black community than the total black population in these states. For example, in Michigan, black people represent only 15 percent of the total population in Michigan but accounted for 35 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state.

With the discovery of the COVID-19 vaccine that began in late February and early March, there became a widespread push for all people eligible to get vaccinated. However, despite the fact that for a long time the United States had some of the earliest access and availability of COVID-19 vaccines, it became obvious the disparity of vaccination rates between the white population and minority groups in the United States. According to Kaiser Health News, in certain states within the US, there was a significant gap between black populations vaccinated in comparison to the total black population within these states. For example, in North Carolina, only 10 percent of the black population was vaccinated of the 30 percent that lives there. While many factors play into this statistic such as the location of vaccines and lack of healthcare insurance, vaccine hesitancy is undoubtedly one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. 

One of the most recent injustices suffered within the black community that highlights why vaccine hesitancy is so persistent was the Tuskegee Study that occurred in the 1930s. The trial, which was originally called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” originally took 600 black men from rural areas of Alabama to study the history of syphilis. While treatment for syphilis was successfully developed in the mid-1940s, the trials continued without giving treatment to individuals with syphilis involved in the trial. Additionally, the consent of the subjects involved in the trial was never officially collected. While this was one of the most recent examples of medical abuse against black people, this is not the first time black people have been taken advantage of in the name of science. Other examples include unauthorized reproductive surgeries on black women during slavery and medical abuse against black people while traveling the Middle Passage. 

While progress has been made in promoting the vaccine and proving its effectiveness to black communities, it is understandable why rates of vaccination would be much lower within the black population in the US. It is undeniable the impact that the racial divide has had on the medical treatment and health of the black population in the United States. The fact that the life expectancy for black individuals as of now is 5 years less in comparison to white individuals is unacceptable. Due to a higher mistrust in healthcare in addition to the increased negative impacts of COVID-19 on black communities, the life expectancy gap between races is higher than ever. It is clear that in order to close this disparity, the US government along with our healthcare system must do a better job instigating policies to show investment in people of all races and backgrounds. If the United States wants higher COVID-19 vaccination rates, our country must work harder to regain trust within black communities. 

Charlotte is a freshman at Davidson College and an intended biology major.