Medical mistrust in Black communities

Due to medical abuses in the past, such as the Tuskegee Experiment, and other atrocities committed against Black Americans in the name of medicine and science, there is much suspicion about the COVID-19 vaccine

The African American and Diaspora Studies and the Black Studies Center, in partnership with the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research, discussed medical mistrust, vaccines and the Black community in observation of Black History Month.

Dr. Lorette Oden-Shabazz, professor of Health Science and Social Work and guest speaker, said the American eugenics movement in the late 19th century and the Tuskegee experiment in 1932 are the cause of a lot medical mistrust among the Black community.

Eugenics is the practice of improving the human species by selectively mating people with ideal hereditary traits and removing undesirable traits from human population.

The Tuskegee experiment took 600 Black men in Macon County Alabama and enrolled them in a project that aimed to study syphilis and its progression. In return, the men were told they would receive free medical care to help treat their disease.

According to, doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service were conducting the study at the Tuskegee Institute and informed the participants they were being treated for “bad blood.” Fifteen years into the study the men were only given placebos instead of penicillin — which became the recommended treatment in 1947 — and as their disease progressed, they died or experienced severe health problems.

“Many died as a result … [it was] a blatant act of genocide on the Black community perpetuated by the white community,” Oden-Shabazz said.

She added events like Tuskegee or the “Mississippi Appendectomy” — forced sterilization — often makes Blacks unwilling or hesitant to take vaccinations.

Oden-Shabazz does not encourage the Black community to blindly receive a COVID-19 vaccination but instead urges them to do their own research and make a choice based on conscience.

“We don’t know the long-term effects,” she said, but both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 94.1% and 95% effective respectively.

She said she is at times conflicted because the historical mistreatment of Blacks cannot be ignored. But there must be a definitive solution when it comes to transmissible illnesses.

“We have to see what’s going to be effective,” Oden-Shabazz said, adding she doesn’t want to call it an experiment, but vaccines have to go through extensive clinical trials to prove effective.

It’s important to note the coronavirus vaccines underwent clinical trials that were designed to reflect racial demographics, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. The Moderna vaccine trials included 10.2% Black or African American; 20.5% Hispanic or Latino; and 4.6% of Asian descent.

Similarly, the Pfizer vaccine trials included 9.2%, 27.9% and 4.2% Black, Hispanic and Asian respectively.

But this still doesn’t ease the angst many Blacks have regarding the very new COVID vaccines.

Brother Minister Abdul Malik Sayyid Muhammad took a more radical approach on the topic of medical mistrust and said no Black member can trust the CDC or the FDA. Additionally, he said until men like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have no stake to lose in pharmaceuticals, a conflict of interest will keep them from being honest with the community.

It should be noted there is no evidence to support the claim that Fauci and Bill Gates will profit from certain pharmaceutical treatments and there is no evidence supporting the claim that Facui has a patent on any COVID-19 treatments.

Muhammad’s underlying point is there’s a real need for more Black physicians and epidemiologist, especially at the medical authoritative levels.

Until then, “I can’t trust this,” he said.

Oden-Shabazz agreed with Muhammad and believes there needs to be more Black people in the medical field. More Blacks involved in medicine will help safeguard against a repetitive history.

“We really need to educate ourselves on the medicines and vaccinations,” Oden-Shabazz said, She added the FDA is the current leading authority on the different vaccinations, but she is hopeful for different ways to combat the virus.

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