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Medical Racism, Anti-Vax Sentiment and The Other Virus

On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle is on vacation and Toure is joined by friend of the show Dr. Christina Greer, head of the political science department at Fordham University at Lincoln Center and co-host of the podcast What’s In It for Us as well as FAQ NYC.

  • The one-year anniversary of lockdown-level pandemic is upon us, and there’s finally glimmers of hope as vaccines are being administered across the country. But a significant portion of Black Americans say they’re not planning to take it.

  • Medical racism is all too real, but the COVID vaccine is a must, especially for communities of color. Why is vaccine hesitancy so widespread and how can we address it?

  • White supremacist violence is on the rise. How does this other virus spread and what needs to change to stop it?

As the U.S. enters the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a third vaccine was rolled out and cases are trending down in many states.

But variants of the virus continue to spread and we’re not out of the woods yet. Bloomberg reports that it will take an estimated 6 months to cover 75% of the population with a two-dose vaccine (at the current rate, which is 2 million-plus doses per day).

And this week, Wendy Williams served up some strong tea by telling Dr. Oz she's not taking the vaccine because she doesn't trust the science.

She’s not the only one.

“There's consistently been a solid 30% [at least] of Black people who have told pollsters they don't want to take the vaccine,” says Toure.

“People throw out a variety of reasons, like it was rushed and who knows what's in it. We eat McDonald's, but we wonder what's in this vaccine?”

Vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans exists “partly because of racism and partly because of the fear of medicine, which comes from racism,” he adds. “I understand that. But we can't be stupid.”

Sometimes Toure jokes about how he’d rather die of a headache than pick cotton out of the top of an aspirin bottle. But of course he would, if it meant that pill would save his life.

“I drink water from a drinking fountain, because you know what? We have the right to do that now. We are our ancestors' wildest dreams. We cannot live based on fear.”

That’s why Toure and Christina are getting the vaccine, and suggest you do too.

Episode Highlights –– Get the Vaccine!

Tuskegee is the wrong rationale

The racist history of American medicine weighs heavily on us, Toure notes. But many Black folks who are reluctant to take the vaccine are using flawed logic.

“Sometimes they throw around the word Tuskegee, not knowing that in the Tuskegee Study, a vaccine was withheld from people over many decades.”

Christina thinks that reflects a failure of our educational system. Her sister, physician Florencia Greer Polite, recently co-wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times about vaccine hesitancy amongst Black healthcare workers, who are electing to take it at rates far lower than their white colleagues.

“Let's be real,” Christina says. “Black people have had horrible interactions with medical professionals in the past. And yes, Tuskegee comes up. But we've had sterilizations. We've had the lead paint experiments from Johns Hopkins. We've had doctors ignore us.”

She points out that even Serena Williams, who is one of the richest Black women in the world, endured a life-threatening childbirth experience due to medical racism.

It’s unfortunately a truism that “Black pain is not respected,” says Toure.

Wendy Williams: ‘So loud and so wrong’

So even though there are reasons for Black folks to have so much fear, cynicism and mistrust of the healthcare system, it’s both dangerous and self-defeating to avoid the vaccine.

That’s why Toure is “disappointed on so many levels” by “the arrogance of Wendy Williams’ ignorance.”