Why the Black community has a distrust in the U.S. healthcare system, especially vaccines

Published by Cierra Ward on

Why the Black community has a distrust in the U.S. healthcare system, especially vaccines

Financially, mentally and medically, Black people have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Many have said they do not plan to take either of the two new vaccines, because of their distrust in the United States’ healthcare system and vaccines. This distrust stems from the turbulent history concerning how healthcare workers have treated the Black community.  

According to a joint survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and ESPN in October, about half of the 777 Black participants said they wouldn’t take the coronavirus vaccine even if health officials deemed it safe and was made available to everyone. The survey also showed that seven out of ten Black participants believed there is “raced-based discrimination in healthcare.” Additionally, 37% of Black mothers say healthcare providers treated them unfairly based on their race.

LaTongia Jenkins-Scott is a healthcare worker who has worked in the industry for over 30 years. She said most of the Black community’s distrust in healthcare stems from being used as “lab rats” in the past, referring to the infamous Tuskegee experiment.

COVID-19 vaccine.
Cierra Ward | Avant-Youth

Jenkins-Scott also said the U.S. healthcare system is inherently “classist and racially-biased.” Throughout her career, she learned about various disparities between how Black people were (and still are) treated versus other races. She said “healthcare workers are taught that Black people don’t feel as much pain and when lab tests are performed on them, their test is put in one box while every other race is thrown into another box.”

Vice President for research at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs, said another reason why Black people distrust healthcare is because of the bad experiences they’ve had when visiting the doctor. She then said healthcare providers notice this distrust.

“A lot of times there’s certain communities like the Black community, who doesn’t get the same access to new [a] therapy or new vaccine, same with people who don’t speak English well, because people are like ‘they don’t trust it’ or we can’t translate the information to a language they can understand,” she said. “I really believe that people should have full access to say yes or no to something.”

In other words, testing wasn’t really offered to my community because doctors believe we wouldn’t partake and felt like it wouldn’t matter, which is wrong because they’re assuming a belief onto all of us. We should at least get a fair and equal opportunity to respond–just like everyone else.

24-year-old Atlanta entrepreneur Quavon Skinner said he doesn’t trust the country’s healthcare system because he feels the doctors “aren’t trained in the right ways.”

“I feel doctors aren’t trained to truly treat you, but only treat you enough,” he said. 

Skinner also feels certain practitioners are racist against people of color.

“When it comes to my race, many Ku Klux Klan members hide in broad daylight,” he said. “They disguise themselves as doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. I’m more comfortable with seeing doctors of my own race, but my statement about their training and job requirements still stand.”

Danitra Toomer, who just recently moved to Atlanta, hasn’t been to her primary care physician since February of this year. She said that visit made her lose trust in healthcare.

“The last time I saw a primary care physician, I went because I had fainted a few days before [for the third time],” she said. “As soon as I let the physician know, he just waved his hand and said it was nothing. He said I was too young to have anything really wrong with me, so I’d be fine.”

She felt her concerns weren’t properly addressed, and she notices other Black women going through similar situations.

“I hear too many stories of neglect that in some cases lead to death for Black women due to their concerns not being taken seriously,” Toomer said.

Clayton State University education major Jasmine Newbould said she has a distrust in healthcare because of what she learned out of a book called The African Unconscious, written by Edward Bynum. In it, he dives deep into the psychological problems Black people face.

“Western psychology and western medical practices only focus on the scientific explanation of cognitive brain functions when coming up with treatment,” Newbould said. “Most western medicine does not include the natural processes or factors of healing.” 

Newbould then goes on to explain that there are many plants that “have the cure for a lot of sicknesses and diseases.”

“Instead of exploring the option of a natural cure, [doctors] much rather inject you with chemicals and different vaccines that we don’t even know if they’re going to work,” she said.

Newbould concludes, saying if western medicine starts to acknowledge and incorporate psychology into medicine, then she may start to trust the healthcare system. 

With Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech’s, and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine now being distributed in the U.S., many Black people are debating whether they will take them or not.

If it’s available to him, Skinner said he will not be taking the vaccine in its initial release because of President Trump’s recent endorsement of it.

“His original comments and leadership in handling the COVID outbreak, as well as his alleged COVID diagnosis, shows that he is not at all qualified to recommend such a vaccine,” he said.  “I’d much rather see the results of others around me taking it first and go from there.”

Skinner, however, said he will take the vaccine if it is proven to be 90% effective after the first round of distribution.

During Georgia’s senate runoff debate, Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, who is a Black pastor, was asked if he would take the vaccine. Contrary to most Black Americans’ aversive attitude, Warnock is eager to take it.

“Absolutely, when our health professionals tell us that we have a vaccine that works and is effective and safe, I will take it,” he said. “I will encourage the folks who listen to me, people who are in my church and in my community to take it.”

Toomer remains skeptical.

“Our people haven’t had the best relationships with vaccines and the government, so I’m not sure if I would take it right away,” she said. “Maybe if [I] do more research.”

Recently, scientists discovered one of the new variants of the COVID-19 virus that has now entered the U.S. from the United Kingdom. Although scientists’ said the new strain is more contagious, it is not as harmful as the strain we know and both vaccines are said to be effective against it.

For those who choose not to take the vaccine, Jenkins-Scott and Dr. Jacobs offer tips to avoid catching and spreading the virus:

  • Continue wearing your mask.
  • Avoid people as much as possible.
    • If you have to be around them, stay six feet away.
  • Stay inside and quarantine when you know you’ve been exposed.
  • Be vigilant of other people in your community.

Although the distrust is warranted, it would be better for the Black community to volunteer when testing for new vaccines, medicines or therapies become available. That way, Black people increase their chances of receiving a remedy that suits us better. 

It’s also important for medical providers to extend testing opportunities to the Black community, creating the chance to participate or not. 

It’s only fair.

Cierra Ward | Avant-Youth

*This article was updated with information about one of the new COVID-19 variants discovered in the U.S.

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Cierra Ward

Cierra Ward is a recent graduate from the University of Central Florida with her bachelor’s in Electronic Journalism. She is originally from Jacksonville, Florida, but plans to travel the whole world before she settles somewhere. Besides telling unique stories of people, her passion is dance, which she has participated in since she was three years old. An interesting fact about Ward is she has a first-degree black belt in Taekwondo.

1 Comment

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