However, there is skepticism surrounding the vaccines’ rollout, particularly among groups of color. This skepticism stems from a long history of mistrust between African Americans and the field of medicine.
James Marion Sims, a 19th-century physician, often referred to as the father of gynecology, is well known and credited with developing tools and techniques that revolutionized gynecology. However, Sims is equally vilified for conducting his research on enslaved African American women without their consent. One can surmise that Sims viewed these women through the racist lens of the time and felt that since slaves were property, they could be utilized as necessary, whether for intense labor or intense physical pain. It is also rumored that Sims didn’t bother to get consent because he believes that the enslaved women didn’t feel pain.
In 1932, physicians from the U.S. Public Health Service began a medical trial known as the Tuskegee Study, in which 600 African American men from Macon County Alabama, were recruited to take part in a 40-year study for the treatment of “bad blood.” However, unbeknown to the men in this study, they were used to study untreated syphilis in Black populations. These men were poor, and many had never been treated by a physician.
The men were told that they would receive free medical care. However, they were instead injected with syphilis and monitored through the full progression of the disease.
In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, was treated for cervical cancer by Johns Hopkins University. During her treatment, some of her tissue was taken without her knowledge or consent as part of a biopsy. Because of Mrs. Lacks’s cells’ unique nature, medical breakthroughs thought of as impossible came to the forefront. However, neither Mrs. Lacks nor her family were ever compensated for these medical advancements.
So, here we are years later, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color, and unsurprisingly skepticism remains between people of color and the medical field. This article is not a condemnation of the COVID-19 vaccines. It is an opportunity to once again shed light on American history in all of its instances and forms.