S.E. Williams | Executive Editor
No two people have identical prints, experts have claimed since the early 20th century even though this had never been proven, or even carefully studied. [Although the idea is plausible,] “people just asserted it.”
– Jennifer Mnookin, Dean of the UCLA law school and an expert in evidence law
Recent public opinion polls show Blacks and Latinos are more hesitant than Whites about taking the COVID-19 vaccine.
Current research further affirms what history had already written in stone—the link between systemic racism and the entrenched mistrust many Blacks have in the medical community is sustained contemporarily through disparate treatment that continues to persist owed to a combination of conscious and unconscious bias.
Interestingly, however, although vaccine hesitancy is elevated in most discussions to rationalize or justify the low number of Blacks currently being vaccinated against COVID-19, what Black and Brown people are saying about their willingness to be vaccinated does not necessarily support this overarching narrative.
It leaves one to wonder whether and how much the idea of “vaccine hesitancy” is being used to paper over, once again, what is proving to be a failure of equitable access to resources—in this instance—the COVID-19 vaccine. For Black, Brown, and other people of color this lack of equity pertains to vaccine allocation, distribution, and delivery.
The question of how much, issues related to equity, are the major deterrent to COVID-19 vaccine participation in the Black community became evident in a survey reported in January by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey found while 22% of Blacks said they probably would not get the vaccine, nearly 64% said “yes,” they will “definitely” or “probably” get it, This represents a strong majority of Blacks in America who are willing to be vaccinated and is contrary to the narrative surrounding hesitancy.
Certainly, vaccine hesitancy in the Black community is both real and justified, but as the Census Bureau survey showed, despite such hesitancy, Blacks like other Americans, understand the urgency of protecting themselves and their loved ones. And why wouldn’t they? After all, what groups have suffered more under the burden of this disease than Black, Brown, and other people of color? More of them have contracted the illness, died from it, lost their jobs, are at risk of becoming homeless and the list of COVID-19 related misfortunes goes on.
Though hesitancy may be a barrier for some Blacks, with 64% willing to receive the vaccine, it is clear, it is not the only barrier to vaccination for this community.
The notion of hesitancy does, however, serve well for officials and others to center on as a narrative to distract from the systemic failures in national policy that continue to leave Blacks and other people of color in a COVID-19 wasteland where, despite the decline in the number of infections, they continue to die disproportionately and now, are also the least likely to have access to the vaccine.
Since COVID-19 hit the shores of America we have borne witness to a dispassionate nation’s failure to rush in and help mitigate an obscene and disproportionate loss of life.
And now, even as most Blacks stand willing to look beyond a history of medical abuse and gamble on the promise of COVID-19 vaccines—the nation is being told the vaccine numbers in Black communities are low because—Blacks are wary of a history of medical abuse and as such—many are unwilling to be vaccinated.
Yes, we as a people are weary but we have been wearying for more than 400 years; yet, we have never been too tired to do what was needed to survive.
That is why Africans rose on the Amistad; why slaves risked their lives for a ticket on the underground railroad; why Ida B. Wells told the stories of lynchings despite continuous threats to her life; why Malcolm said by “Any means necessary;” why Martin said, “Like any man I would like to live a long life, longevity has its place…”
What we have experienced this past year is that longevity is at issue for everyone but for Blacks and other people of color, it is reaching a point of crisis… The Washington Post reported, “Black people are 37 percent more likely to die of COVID-19 than Whites.” And recent analysis shows that all the progress Blacks made in recent years in relation to closing the life expectancy gap between Blacks and Whites were virtually eliminated by the coronavirus. In less than a year, life expectancy among Blacks was reduced by 2.10 years and among Latinos by 3.05 years compared to only 0.68 years among Whites.
Like the myth of fingerprints convinced the world for generations of its efficacy even though it has never been proven, or even carefully studied, the same attitude is being applied regarding how much the issue of vaccine hesitancy accounts for the low level of COVID-19 vaccine participation in the Black community.
Unlike the myth of fingerprints however, the Census Bureau survey has shown though hesitancy accounts for a percentage of Blacks reluctant to be vaccinated, the majority are willing to take the vaccine. In the final analysis, we see the issue of hesitancy is being used as a shield to cover the continued inequities in America’s response to this deadly virus.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.
“Over the mountain, down in the valley lives a former talk-show host, everybody knows his name. He said, “There’s no doubt about it, it was the myth of fingerprints. I’ve seen them all and man, they’re all the same.” – Paul Simon
S.E. Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.