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History of medical mistrust: How can we convince the Black community to get the COVID vaccine after decades of deceit?

Just 54% of Black adults say they’re likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available, a study from the Pew Research Center found.

CLEVELAND — The Vascular Surgeon and Vice Chairman of Vascular Surgery makes it his mission to address health care disparities. 

Dr. Lee Kirksey, MD at the Cleveland Clinic, doesn’t want to see disparity within the Black community when it comes to the COVID vaccine, but knows there is an uphill battle because of the history of medical mistrust.

“When you think about what's happened to the black community, four times more likely to be hospitalized from this COVID virus, three times more likely to die. This suggests that it's disproportionately impacted our communities in ways that one can't imagine. And we all know of someone who's lost their friend and family member within the black community,” Dr. Kirksey said during an interview with Leon Bibb.

Just 54% of Black adults say they’re likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available, a study from the Pew Research Center found. 

Approximately 44% said they would not get the shot.

“Certainly there's a lack of trust. And in that lack of trust as a factual root to it going back 400 years, to slave times, and, and these experiences that have been passed down through generations. And we talk about the United States healthcare Tuskegee experiment.

Credit: AP
This undated photo provided by the Pentagon's Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency shows Lawrence Dickson, a New York pilot killed during World War II. Dickson is first of the 27 Tuskegee Airmen still listed as missing in action whose remains the Pentagon says they have identified through DNA samples provided by his daughter in New Jersey. Dickson was a 24-year-old captain in the 100th Fighter Squadron when his P-51 fighter plane was seen crashing along the Italy-Austria border during a mission on Dec. 23, 1944. Searches for the crash site were unsuccessful until 2012. (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency via AP)

"Even recently we think about Flint, Michigan, and the water issue in crises that disproportionately affected Blacks and poor whites," said Dr. Kirksey.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this March 21, 2016, file photo, the Flint Water Plant water tower is seen in Flint, Mich. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says a proposed $600 million deal between the state of Michigan and Flint residents harmed by lead-tainted water is a step toward making amends. Officials announced the settlement Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, which must be approved by a federal judge. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

"And we know that there's a context to this distrust. Black Americans, me included, have grown up with this idea that the table is not level set in terms of how we receive healthcare. We all have stories. This all takes place in what we experienced each day and micro aggressions and macro aggressions. And, and what's out there for us to not believe that this is present within healthcare,” Dr. Kirksey acknowledges.

But his mission in speaking out, is to say, this is not the case, and this is not the time to hold on to past transgressions. 

He has heard the arguments against getting the vaccine. His counterpoint is targeted and direct.

“This is something that I've heard from friends, from family members. 'Well, I'll just wait, I'll just wait and see what happens for, for six or nine months. This has been a little bit too quick for me.' And I tell them, 'think about this. If, I told you that we have a disease, that there's a 50% chance, if you get it, you'll be in the hospital and a 25% chance that you'll be in the intensive care unit. And I told you that we had a treatment for that disease, but I told you that we were going to let Black folks sit in the back of the line and just wait it out. How would, how would we feel about that?' We'd be up in arms. 'How could this happen?' And so this is a safe and effective vaccine that has the potential to help our community,” Dr. Kirksey said.