‘You are trusted so much more than the outside non-Black world’
On Friday afternoon Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, joined Virginia faith leaders, state health experts and Gov. Ralph Northam to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
The discussion, hosted by the Facts & Faith Fridays group, was centered around health equity and helping clergy members in communities of color to answer questions and concerns about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
Citing the Centers for Disease Control, Fauci explained that Black Non-Hispanic Americans are three times as likely as Whites to be hospitalized for COVID-19. Those who identify as Hispanic, Latino and Native American are three-and-a-half times as likely to be hospitalized.
Fauci said this phenomenon can be explained largely by two important factors, the first being that Black and Brown populations are more likely to have jobs that require them to work outside the home (thus exposing them to the virus) and the second being that there is “an increased incidence and prevalence of the comorbidities that are associated with severe COVID-19 disease.”
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Black and Brown communities disproportionately hard, surveys also show that 40% of Black respondents do not plan to get the vaccine when it becomes available and 32% are not sure. By way of comparison, only 16% of White respondents and 23% of Hispanic respondents said they do not plan to get the vaccine.
“There’s a degree of skepticism — understandable skepticism — among the Brown and Black community because history tells us they have not always been treated fairly and ethically by the federal government in their medical approaches,” Fauci said.
For 40 years starting in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a syphilis study on 600 Black men without their informed consent. Despite the fact that penicillin became the widely accepted antidote for syphilis in 1947, the participants never received proper care. Denied treatment, many of the men suffered from blindness and severe illness while others died. The study, known as the Tuskegee experiment, ended after an investigation by the Associated Press spurred public outrage in 1972.
“It’s a shameful past that we have to live with, but there are now safeguards in place that will never let that happen again,” Fauci said.
“If we want to crush this outbreak,” Fauci said, “we’ve got to get the overwhelming majority of the United States population vaccinated, including — and I might say even specifically — Black and Brown people because of the risk … of infection and serious deleterious consequences.”
Fauci said that in order to end the pandemic, at least 75% of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated and encouraged Black and Brown churches to tell their congregations that it’s important for them to get vaccinated.
The nation’s top pandemic expert added that faith leaders can respond to skepticism about the vaccine’s safety with the following assurance: “The decision as to whether or not this is a safe and effective vaccine was made by an independent body that is beholden not to the government, not to the [pharmaceutical] company, but to the American public. It’s called the Data and Safety Monitoring Board. And they decided that the data was striking.”