At long last, a coronavirus vaccine may be available for use in the United States very soon.

Before people outside of clinical trials can get the first US coronavirus vaccine, two government agencies grounded in science and research, the US Food & Drug Administration (the “FDA”) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”), must give their approval. Health agencies and governments worldwide respect the FDA and the CDC for their scientific standards as applied to vaccine safety.

And yet, many of us remain skeptical. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, African Americans are less likely than other groups to take a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available. According to the survey, only 42% of African Americans will volunteer to get vaccinated, compared to 63% of Hispanics, 61% of white adults, and 83% of Asian Americans.

Many African Americans are rightfully skeptical of our healthcare systems. Given the continuing history of racism, negligence, and dismissiveness in the United States, it is easy to see why African Americans distrust American healthcare systems.

  • Doctors used the cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks to develop medical breakthroughs without her consent.
  • Researchers deliberately didn’t treat men with syphilis during the Tuskegee Syphilis study, leading to many unnecessary deaths.
  • James Marion Sims, sometimes known as the “father of gynecology,” conducted experiments on enslaved Black women without anesthesia.

Even today, doctors’ biases contribute to the outcomes of African Americans and other patients of color as their symptoms are overlooked, dismissed, or untreated.  According to the CDC, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women regardless of socio-economic status and access to high-end medical care.

Without the vaccine, however, African Americans will continue to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Not only are we more likely to contract COVID-19, but we are more likely to die from it or to have known someone who has been hospitalized or died due to COVID-19. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to grind on our nation’s racial and economic pain points, we must put our skepticism aside because too many of our Black Brothers and Sisters continue to die as a result of this disease.

There is no doubt that our healthcare system suffers from systemic racial bias. Our alarming racial health disparities exist in large part as a result of these biases. If African Americans stay away from a COVID-19 vaccine, however, these disparities will only grow worse. The vaccines are for everyone – not targeting a specific race or subgroup – we should not be fearful.

As we take personal responsibility to social distance and wear masks to protect ourselves and others, we must do the same with the vaccine. When the vaccine becomes available, I urge you to join me in our historical and global fight against COVID-19 and get vaccinated to protect ourselves, our families, our community, our nation, and all of the people of the world.