The Role of Experimentation and Medical Mistrust in COVID-19 Vaccine Skepticism

The Role of Experimentation and Medical Mistrust in COVID-19 Vaccine Skepticism

2021-01-12 21:33:11
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by Courtney J. Jones Carney

For many people in the United States, the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines symbolizes the hope of the end of a virus that has ravaged this country and the world. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 373,167 COVID-19-related deaths in the United States as of Jan. 11, disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

In November, the CDC reported that compared to white / non-Latinx individuals; Indigenous, Asian, Black, and Latinx people are more likely to be diagnosed, hospitalized, and die from COVID-19. Still, a recent national survey conducted by COVID Collaborative, Langer Research, UnidosUS and the NAACP found that the majority of Black and Latinx people do not trust the vaccine to be effective or safe.

Courtney J. Jones Carney

So how can there be such a level of mistrust in a vaccine and its effectiveness in some of the most affected populations? While the answer to this is complicated, it is directly related to white supremacy, the all-encompassing central position and presumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white and the practices and norms of norms based on that assumption, and the role that structurally oppressive systems play in granting privileges to people with the identity of an agent while denying others the right to vote. Themes of power and dominance can be present in interactions between patients and doctors and the way vaccine skeptics are often ridiculed or dismissed as uneducated. It's the way some anchor institutions have centered their will and domination over the neighborhoods they occupy.

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment appears to be the most frequently cited medical experiment when discussing BIPOC's medical distrust, but the legacy of experimentation and unethical research on BIPOC and marginalized populations does not begin or end with Tuskegee. Instead, the roots of medical distrust lie much deeper and wider. One of the earliest documented cases involved experiments on enslaved women of African descent by J. Marion Sims, who is referred to as the "father of modern gynecology". His experiments with Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy were performed without anesthesia due to the high cost and high risk, the & # 39; subjects & # 39; that were considered property and the belief that black people did not feel pain in the same way as whites. The latter, while seemingly outdated, is prevalent in modern medical settings.

A 2016 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, found that 50 percent of medical interns surveyed believed at least one of the following: Black people's nerve endings are less sensitive than White people, Black people's skin is thicker than White people's, and Black people's blood clots faster than that of white people. In addition, a textbook used in the training of nurses, Nursing: a concept-oriented approach to learning, advises readers that "a client's culture influences their response to and beliefs about pain." It includes the following:

  • "Arabs / Muslims may not ask for pain medication, but instead thank Allah for pain if it is the result of the medical healing process."
  • “Customers from Asian cultures often value stoicism as a response to pain. A client who openly complains of pain is thought to have poor social skills. "
  • "Blacks often report higher pain intensity than other cultures."
  • "Hispanics may believe that pain is a form of punishment and that suffering must be endured if they are to enter heaven."
  • "Jews can be noisy and ask for help."
  • "Native Americans may prefer medicines blessed by a tribal shaman."

Stereotypes like the one above allow medical professionals to use bias to evaluate pain instead of listening to patients and assessing needs. It is such inaccuracies that contribute to the mistreatment of BIPOC patients, adding to medical mistrust. It's important to note that once Sims perfected his surgeries, they were performed on white women under anesthesia.

In the space provided, I could not provide an exhaustive list of medical and scientific experiments, so the educator in me was forced to leave the reader an assignment. Below is a timeline illustrating that scientific / medical experiments are not isolated, span centuries and affect people across race, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, freedom, language and nationality. I urge you to conduct your own research on these and other experiments with the intent of understanding the historical and current context of medical mistrust and responses to COVID-19 vaccines.

As the country advances in vaccinations that can be scrutinized by BIPOC and marginalized populations, we must all recognize that feelings of skepticism are valid and understandable. Educators, particularly in the health and human services field, should create educational opportunities for students to unpack the history of experimentation and implications for professional practice and encourage genuine dialogue around fears and opportunities evoked by social identities based on historical knowledge, lived experiences and the accelerated production and testing of the vaccines.

1845 (four years): Gynecological Surgical Experiments

1879 (94 years): Assimilation experiments with indigenous children

1927: Radiation experiment from Lyles Station (Indiana)

1932 (40 years): Tuskegee, Alabama syphilis experiment

1940s: Malaria Investigation at Stateville Penitentiary, Illinois

1948: Syphilis Experiments in Guatemala

1951: Henrietta Lacks

1952 (over 20 years): Project 4.1 Marshall Islands

1960 (11 years): Radiation research from the University of Cincinnati

1973 (three years): Involuntary sterilization from the Indian Health Service

1993: Baltimore lead paint study

Courtney J. Jones Carney is the Executive Director of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Intercultural Leadership and Engagement Center and Director of the Intercultural Center, Department of Student Affairs; the program director of the Intercultural Leadership Post-baccalaureate Certificate and the faculty of the University of Maryland Graduate School. She is also a PhD candidate in the public administration program at the University of Baltimore. Her dissertation examines the impact of exposure to racial and ethnic micro-aggressions and employee engagement.


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