Eight prominent Black doctors wrote a "love letter to Black America" to encourage people to get the Covid-19 vaccine once it becomes available.
A significant proportion of Black Americans said in an Axios/Ipsos poll in August that they were unlikely to get the first-generation coronavirus vaccine once it becomes available. Compared to slightly more than half of white and Latino respondents who said they'd get the vaccine, 72 percent of Black respondents said they wouldn't immediately get a vaccination for Covid-19.
In addition to some general skepticism about the vaccine, there is historical skepticism among the Black community about medical experimentation and vaccines. Many point to the experiences of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken by doctors at Johns Hopkins University without her knowledge for experimentation as she died of cancer, and of the men subjected to the torturous Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
The doctors said their health care colleagues are aware of the collective distrust. To get the Black community to take the vaccine, "they must do more to earn your trust — now and in the future," they said.
"We ask you to join us in participating in clinical trials and taking a vaccine once it's proven safe and effective," they said. "We know that our collective role in helping to create a vaccine that works for Black people — and that we trust — has an impact on our very survival."
They added, "Respect for our Black bodies and our Black lives must be a core value for those who are working to find the vaccine for this virus that has already taken so many of our loved ones."
The doctors, who are in "key decision-making roles from the lab to the clinic to the virtual boardroom" are: Leon McDougle, president of the National Medical Association; David Carlisle, president of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; Martha A. Dawson, a doctor of nursing practice who is president of the National Black Nurses Association; Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University; James Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College; Valerie Montgomery Rice, president of Morehouse School of Medicine; Randall Morgan, president of The Cobb Institute; and Reed Tuckson, a founding member of the Black Coalition Against Covid.
The group asked the Black community to keep them accountable for protecting their health. They also shared their role within a medical and racial justice framework and encouraged people to continue practicing safety precautions, even though weathering several months of the pandemic is burdensome.
"We affirm that Black Lives Matter. We love you. And as Black health professionals, we have a higher calling to stand for racial justice and to fight for health equity," the group said. "We plead with you to wear your masks, continue social distancing, hand washing, and avoiding indoor events until vaccines are widely available."