Historical medical injustices create racial divide in trust of COVID-19 vaccines


DENVER (KDVR) — Doctors across Colorado and throughout the United States have their work cut out for them as they try to encourage people to get on board with a COVID-19 vaccine. The work is especially challenging in minority populations, according to doctors at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver. Some sad episodes in American history are helping to drive a racial divide when it comes to vaccine trust.

In 1972, Americans were horrified to learn of a racist, decades-long medical study in Alabama known today as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Black men suffering from the disease were denied treatment and an eventual cure.

“They were taken advantage of, quite frankly,” said Dr. Reginald Washington, chief medical officer at PSL and Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.

Washington points to the Tuskegee betrayal as just one example of historical medical injustice targeting minorities. He said surveys show up to 60 percent of those in minority populations say they will refuse to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We need to have some trust among individuals that the appropriate steps have been taken so that they’re not being experimented upon,” Washington explained.

Dr. Sasha Andrews, an OB/GYN at PSL, is part of building that trust. She is participating in the Moderna vaccine trail.

“After a lot of thought, and research, and talking to friends and family, I did decide to participate,” Andrews said.

Her research involved pulling original mRNA vaccine papers going back decades.

“Even though the speed at which these vaccines have been developed is amazing, really the science and technology behind it has been investigated for a very long time,”Andrews said.

As a health care worker on the frontlines, she said she has trust in the vaccine to protect herself and her family. Her husband is also part of the Moderna trail.

“Trust the science,” she said. “Trust your doctors.”

Doctors Washington and Andrews hope, with time, people will gain the faith needed so we all can see our way through these dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we can’t get a sufficient number of people vaccinated against the COVID virus, the vaccine won’t be effective,” Washington said.

Colorado public health care officials acknowledge a need for faith-based leaders, and leaders in various communities, to gain a better understanding of the vaccine and then encourage their followers to get vaccinated.

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