Speaking at an event hosted by the National Urban League this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci encouraged Black Americans hesitant to take the coronavirus vaccine to trust in the process. Fauci acknowledged that there is a history of racism in American medical research and said that he understood why minorities are hesitant to be vaccinated.
Fauci stressed that the vaccine is safe and pointed out that many African American scientists have helped develop the vaccine. In particular, he pointed to the efforts of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, an NIH scientist who helped to lead development of the Moderna vaccine.
"The very vaccine that's one of the two that has absolutely exquisite levels -- 94 to 95% efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100% efficacy against serious disease that are shown to be clearly safe -- that vaccine was actually developed in my institute's vaccine research center by a team of scientists led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or Kizzy Corbett," Fauci said.
"So, the first thing you might want to say to my African American brothers and sisters is that the vaccine that you're going to be taking was developed by an African American woman," Fauci added. "And that is just a fact."
Black Americans are disproportionately affected by Covid-19, but a recent NAACP study found that only 14% of Black Americans believe that a vaccine will be safe and 18% believe it will be effective.
According to the study, concerns stem from dark periods in American medical history, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. The study, which began in 1932, documented the lives of 600 Black men, two thirds of whom had syphilis. However, the men were not treated for syphilis when penicillin cured the disease in 1947. Many of the men infected their wives, who passed the disease onto their children. The study did not end until 1972.
"I would say to people who are vaccine-hesitant that you've earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process," Corbett recently told CNN. "Trust, especially when it has been stripped from people, has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion. And so, what I say to people firstly is that I empathize, and then secondly is that I'm going to do my part in laying those bricks. And I think that if everyone on our side, as physicians and scientists, went about it that way, then the trust would start to be rebuilt."
President Obama also recently recognized the damage that experiments like those in Tuskegee had done to trust in modern medicine among minorities.
"I understand you know historically -- everything dating back all the way to the Tuskegee experiments and so forth -- why the African American community, would have some skepticism. But the fact of the matter is, is that vaccines are why we don't have polio anymore, the reason why we don't have a whole bunch of kids dying from measles and smallpox and diseases that used to decimate entire populations and communities," Obama said.