By: Kam Buckner-IL House of Representatives
For over a year, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has fallen disproportionately on the Black community, with African Americans having a high percentage of coronavirus infections and deaths. There is a clear way to battle the virus and move forward from the pandemic through the use of safe and effective vaccines, but many of us in the Black community are hesitant to receive a vaccination against COVID-19, even though it greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death. I can understand why, but our unexamined fear will only prevent us from protecting ourselves.
We know the long, complex history of our government using medical racism against us. Before it became a political catchphrase, we knew well and good about the horrors of the Tuskegee experiment, in which rural and mostly poor Black men infected with syphilis had treatment withheld from them for decades. We also know about the forced sterilization of Black women. And it’s not just ‘the past’. There are multiple ways in which medical racism still exists today. It is seen through the higher rates of maternal mortality for Black women, unequal access to health insurance, and the fact that African Americans are given all around worse care by doctors and nurses. All these factors and a lack of access to trusted primary care physicians hurt the ability to build trust in the health care system.
But here’s the thing: this COVID-19 pandemic is deadly, it’s getting ever-more contagious and it will be with us for some time. We have already suffered enough. If it didn’t take our families, it took our jobs. If we deny ourselves access to this life-saving vaccine, then the legacy of racism wins. We owe it to ourselves to protect ourselves. No vaccine is perfect, even the common ones we get as kids or every year for the flu. But the fact that we were able to create a vaccine that protects against hospitalization and death is a miracle.
And it was a miracle that was in-part created by a Black woman: Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, one of the principal leaders for testing and verifying the safety of the Moderna vaccine. Led by her, Dr. Fauci, and other top scientists and doctors across the country, the COVID-19 vaccines were developed under ethical standards with some of the largest trials of any vaccines in history, with nationwide tracking for side effects to keep people safe as millions and millions take their dose.
It’s understandable why some are hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but if that hesitancy turns to resistance it will end up doing more harm to Black people and Black lives. Going back to history, one of the worst aspects of Tuskegee was that Black people in need of treatment were denied the potential to save their lives. Fast forward today, we’d be doing that to ourselves if we refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Even with awareness of how the health care system has treated African Americans in the past and an understanding of the challenges of the present, I got vaccinated. I was able to get vaccinated thanks to the work of Black leaders like Dr. Corbett and I did it not only to protect myself, but to help protect my sister and my mother, two Black women who inspire me daily.
As a Black elected official who represents a predominantly Black constituency, I know there are many who are hesitant to get vaccinated, but if we deny ourselves the vaccine then we will condemn ourselves to unnecessary suffering, or even death.
If you believe that Black Lives Matter, then get vaccinated to help protect yourself and the lives of your family and friends. We’re dying without it. Please, get the shot.
Kam Buckner is a Democratic member of the Illinois House of Representatives