The Facts: There are certainly historical reasons for Black and Latinx communities to fear being singled out. The concern is justified because people of color and marginalized groups have, in the past, been coerced and subjugated to participating in drug trials and medical procedures without informed consent, patient protections, or ethical practices. That is not the case here, however. Black and Latinx communities have not been singled out to get the vaccine. But groups are being offered the vaccine based on the risks faced by the people in the group. So, the answer is NO to singling anyone out but YES, Black and Latinx communities could be offered the vaccines earlier than other communities where infection, hospitalization and death rates have not been as high. Consider the following:
- The two vaccines now available were tested on diverse populations. In fact, efforts were made to assure inclusion of Black and Latinx volunteers in proportions equal to their proportion in the population just to make sure there weren’t factors that would make a vaccine less effective or less safe in either of those groups. A big effort was made to include members of those groups, to assure that they would not be victims of medical neglect, which is the other side of the coin in regard to medical racism.
- The very top priority for getting vaccinated now that the vaccines are available are frontline workers in healthcare. This includes clinical staff such as doctors, nurses, and therapists as well as people who work in other areas like laboratories and hospital environmental services. They are prioritized because they are at higher risk of being exposed to the virus and they are critical to keeping other people alive. These same criteria are being used to decide who is next in line, as we need to prioritize vaccinating some people before others while there is limited supply of the vaccine. Once there is plenty of vaccine available, everyone who wants to get vaccinated should have easy access to the vaccine.
- There is good reason for Black and Latinx communities to demand equal and early access to vaccination. Black and Latinx residents, along with Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, have been most likely to be infected (often as a result of poor working or living conditions), most likely to require hospitalization if infected, and most likely to die from COVID-19. They‘re also the communities that suffer most severe consequences if illness excludes them from the workforce. If you see billboards or hear advertising encouraging Black and Latinx residents of LA to opt for vaccination, it reflects these concerns. LA wants those who have been hardest hit to have the opportunity to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
The stakes for Black and Latinx residents of LA are high. Please read what you can about the vaccines from reliable sources and talk to well-informed people you trust – your doctor, a science teacher you know, a pharmacist – and ask them to respond to your questions and concerns. Your questions are important and deserve to be answered by knowledgeable and trusted individuals.