Why are people of color more hesitant to get the coronavirus vaccine? Mistrust is rooted in history

We’ve seen a lot of loss of life in Black and Latino communities impacted by Covid-19. The data is out there to prove it, so why are people of color still so hesitant to get the vaccine? 

History tells a story of mistreatment and exploitation that give many people pause and mistrust when it comes to the government and the medical community. 

"I don’t trust it. Part of that is probably just due to my background," said Yasmeen Mosely of West Seattle.

For several days this week Q13 News spoke with local viewers who brought up real concerns about taking the coronavirus vaccine. Now we’re digging into why.

For starters, black and Latino Americans have historically been traumatized by some government-run experiments.

"People bring up Tuskegee all the time,"  said University of Washington Professor of Public Health Clarence Spigner.

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Spigner said from 1932 to 1972, illiterate farmers were unknowingly recruited into a study for untreated syphillis. Hundreds of men with syphillis were never treated. 

"They just waited to see who would succumb from untreated syphilis and who wouldn’t because the belief was somehow because we had dark skin we were biologically different from white people," Spigner said. "Totally absurd ... this is the U.S. Public Health Service."

U.S.-led experiments in Guatemala were even worse, Spigner said: Participants were purposely injected with the syphillis virus. 

The unsettling history still sits with people of color today as they decide whether or not to get a vaccine that will help the world return to a pre-pandemic life. 

"They have every right to say that they don’t trust government or that they don’t trust the medical establishment," said Spigner.

Representation is another issue. According to Moderna, only 10 percent of its vaccine study participants were Black, and 20 percent Latino. More than 60 percent were white. 

"I had heard that Moderna made a commitment to enroll a certain number of non-white people and they were having trouble having enough people enrolled," said Richelle Dickerson, a participant in Moderna's trials. 

Dickerson said she participated in Moderna’s vaccine study for that very reason.

There is one area where representation is not an issue: at the very top. Dr. Kizzy Corbett, a Black woman, is one of the lead scientists at the forefront of the vaccine’s development.

Jules Mack, a respiratory care specialist at Harborview Medical Center who just received the vaccine, had this to say to people of color: 

"I know it is challenging to come into a hospital and you don’t see people who look like you, but I am one person saying this vaccine will prevent you from getting the serious type of Covid and passing away and dying from this. So do your research if you need to, but also, come out and get the vaccine to protect yourself and your family."

Professor Spigner says he will be first in line when it's his turn. He expects most people will do the same.