There’s a reason Black people don’t want to take the vaccine. If we don’t talk about it, we can’t solve the problem

·4 min read
<p>A woman is administered with the vaccine by a medical professional at Northwell Health</p> (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A woman is administered with the vaccine by a medical professional at Northwell Health

(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Call me cynical, but I doubt watching a Christian who lies like hell take a shot on TV is going to have as much impact as some might hope.

On Friday, Vice President Pence kicked off a wave of high-profile politicians publicly revealing that they have taken the coronavirus vaccine under the guise of curbing anxiety amongst millions of Americans about its safety. As many have already noted, it is the least he could do, given all of the lies he and other members of the Trump administration have told throughout this ongoing Covid-19 nightmare.

As for others who have come public about getting vaccinated — such as Senator Marco Rubio, who downplayed the severity of the pandemic — or even Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, well, all that really does is highlight the reality of the pandemic: While millions of other Americans suffer, the most privileged among us continue to be given preferential treatment.

Although I genuinely hope that Black people and women of all races — groups that have shown through polling to be the most hesitant to take the vaccine — are not lost in the efforts to vaccine Americans to the point where we can regain some semblance of normal life, it’s going to require a lot more than this.

For starters, there is still not enough being said about why some are so distrustful.

Watch: Two Black medical personnel who received COVID-19 vaccine understand Black America’s skepticism, but say the vaccine is needed

As Dr Uché Blackstock, an American emergency physician and former Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the New York University School of Medicine who also advocates for medical equity, recently wrote, “Let’s change the narrative around vaccine hesitancy in Black communities to focus on institutional trustworthiness.”

Black people have been experimented on in this country in the past, and even today, if you are Black, you are likely to not be treated as well as a white man like Mike Pence. The same is true for women overall. In these cases, it’s not so much about being anti-science but having some knowledge of history, or better yet, their own lived experiences. Not everyone may have the language to communicate why they are so fearful and reluctant when it comes to modern medicine, but that doesn’t mean that they’re inherently wrong to feel the way they do.

The inability to have a sensible national conversation around such learned fears will only give added weight to them. So, encouraging as it is to see that at least half of US states are seeking to prioritize getting the most vulnerable groups to take the vaccine, I worry if the people in charge even know how to reach them. It does not help that already, anti-vaxxer groups are stoking distrust.

For months now, I’ve seen these groups — typically right-wing, and thus, primarily white — promote their nonsense on social media. There are plenty of goofy memes that I’ve been sent and have had to fact-check in real time. Facebook and YouTube have begun cracking down on disinformation around Covid-19 vaccines, but the damage is already done.

And according to NBC News, these groups have since redirected to local media.

“This is the problem of information laundering,” Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University who studies media manipulation, explained. “If you make a harmful position sound reasonable, then more people who would otherwise not be inclined to believe it might be willing to look at it as an issue with two sides.”

Black people don’t watch Fox News in droves so the dangerous irony of Rupert Murdoch taking the vaccine while his biggest star, Tucker Carlson, encourages his audience to distrust vaccines gives me less angst, but local news is far more impactful.

Watch: COVID-19 - vaccines recall decades of deception and pain for Black Americans

Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns local news affiliates across the country and fancies itself as a Fox News rival, was widely criticized this summer for siding with Trump on Covid-19 conspiracy theories (the group pulled a program that was allegedly full of coronavirus conspiracies). Fauci is someone who has been trying to speak to some of the legitimate concerns that Black people have about our medical system — making a habit of noting that Dr Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black female scientist, helped create the Moderna vaccine. But theoretically, even she is a few news segments away from being intentionally smeared.

Vice has also alleged that some of President Trump’s favorite doctors are actively trying to play on the distrust Black people have by spreading disinformation about Black people being used as “guinea pigs” for the vaccine. Let us hope that Newsmax, Fox News, or OANN doesn’t give them the time of day. But I won’t hold my breath.

Pence’s participation, along with the other congressional photo-ops, is a shallow effort to curb a more complicated issue. We can’t let anti-vaxxers fill that vacuum. For the good of all Americans, it’s time for our government and media to step up and offer more meaningful and considerate words and actions.

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