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DIGGING DEEPER: The history and trauma behind Black American’s fear of the COVID-19 vaccine

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The approval of the COVID-19 vaccine was seen as a glimmer of hope in the fight during the pandemic.

The first person in America to receive the vaccine was a Black, New York intensive care nurse named Sandra Lindsay.

And while on the surface this may not seem ground breaking, for Black Americans, it represents so much more.

"I was excited to see it because it was a black woman, I was excited to see that. But I wasn't excited to see it because are we being experimented on first?" said community member Fines Woodard.

It's no secret that Americans across the country are fearful of the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine was approved much quicker than other vaccines and people say they don't know much about it.

But for Black Americans, the fear of the vaccine goes beyond the unknown. It's triggered by trauma created from history.

"The fear that we have is not new, it is over 400 years old," said NIU Professor Laverne Gyant.

Since slavery, African Americans have been subjected to unethical medical practices in the medical world. One of the most famous examples was the Tuskegee Experiment.

From the 1930s to 1970s, 600 black men in Macon County, Alabama, were enrolled in an experiment to research the effects of syphilis by the U.S. Public Health Service. 

What made the experiment unethical is that when a drug treating syphilis was approved in 1947, none of the participants were notified or given the treatment. Thus resulting in long-term effects, including death.

"And so when you have that in mind, no you don't want to be a part of the sample, you don't want them to do anything to you," said Gyant.

Because of this and other experiences, Black Americans have found themselves scared to get the vaccine.

"We are reluctant because we know the history. I was a child during the Jim Crow era and I know the things they did us unwittingly," said Rockford resident Dyanna Walker.

"You know it's like every time we are the group that is sacrificed. It gives us reason to pause as something as such as a vaccine is created and African Americans are the ones that are more susceptible to the virus," said community member Carroll Zubolton.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on national health issues, only 17% of Black adults say they would "definitely" get the vaccine. That is compared to 34% of White adults 37% of Hispanic adults who say they would get the vaccine.

But what can be done to solve this issue, knowing that Black Americans have been impacted by the Pandemic?

Dr. Arthur Rone from Mercyhealth says it's important for medical professional like him to have conversations about the vaccine and the virus.

"I've spent a lot of time educating patients on what I know. Getting the information I can and in terms they understand. But it is still an induvial decision," said Dr. Rone.

As of Wednesday, over 10 million people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Lauren Baker

Lauren Baker is the 13 News weekend evening anchor. She started in April of 2019 after moving from Michigan, where she was a morning producer/traffic reporter.

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