GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Wednesday afternoon, the Black Impact Collaborative held a virtual discussion about the longstanding distrust that African Americans have regarding the medical field. Moderator Dr. Walter Brame noted that officials in the United Kingdom have already begun distributing the vaccine there. However, he believes concerns need to be addressed in the Black community in the United States before it’s distributed.
“It is my hope that the discussion will shed light on some of the issues and will provide answers to some of the issues related to the vaccine,” Dr. Brame said during a Zoom interview. “Given the history of African Americans and the medical community, there are some stumbling blocks that we’ll have to overcome in terms of trust.”
Officials with Spectrum Health, Cherry Health and Kent County were a part of the discussion. One of the major stumbling blocks discussed was the history between the Black community and the medical field, which dates as far back as the colonial days when enslaved Africans were used for various experiments, he said. Since then, Black people have been put on display in exhibitions and zoos as animals, and continue to be used in tests and trials for diseases like syphilis.
“The Tuskegee Experiment is where the CDC of the American government sponsored, over a long period of time, the impact of syphilis on the human body supposedly trying to discover what differences if any existed between the treatment of Blacks and Whites, when in fact no Whites were involved,” Dr. Brame said about the 1932 experiment. “Given this history with bad experience with the medical community, it is easy to understand that people are questioning whether or not this is another jinx.”
Dr. Brame added that the experiment lasted for decades and ended the year his son was born in 1972. According to the CDC website, hundreds of men participated in the study in exchange for meals and a nice burial. He believes the trial continues to impact the Black community today and has led to further untruths in the medical field.
“The notion that Black people don’t experience pain for example in the very same way that others experience pain,” he said is a common misconception. “This, coupled with the disparities that exist from infant mortality, which we’ve made some improvements on in recent years in the Kent County area. But we had problems with infant mortality to over-representation in major diseases even when the diseases in some instances were discovered earlier, the death rate for Blacks is greater than for other groups.”
Dr. Brame also mentioned other incidents that led to further distrust, like Henrietta Lacks whose cells were used by scientists and medical professionals for research and her family was not compensated, and civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer receiving a hysterectomy without her consent. Considering all of this, he said he understands Black people’s apprehension. However he hopes discussions like the one conducted by the Black Impact Collaborative “will empower people to make intelligent decisions about their participation.”
“When I talk to my friends in the medical community and when I see physicians that are taking it, I’m likely to line up to take it also,” Dr. Brame said. “But I understand why some people will have reservations about using medicine given our history.”
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