Black health leaders urge fair access to COVID-19 vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As we get closer to having an approved coronavirus vaccine, there are concerns about when it becomes available who will have access to it.

Experts say there is a lingering mistrust between the Black community and public health officials that mainly stems from the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. That’s when hundreds of Black men being treated for the disease didn’t get a vaccine, even though one was available because researchers wanted to track the disease’s full progression instead of giving them one. 

Now that the vaccine for COVID-19 is in the works of becoming approved, Black health officials want to ensure their community that it is in fact safe. 

“I think that that trust is a major significant issue,” said Vanessa Greene, the CEO of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute.

Greene says the Syphilis Study still has an impact on the Black community.

“The legacy of that fear is still prevalent today,” said Greene.

This is why she’s working with health care leaders to bridge that gap and make sure those in the Black community feel comfortable getting the vaccine.

“We’re making definitely waves in changing that and approving that,” said Greene.

Will Fobbs, an advocate from Battle Creek, says he’s also concerned about fair access.

“You start looking at how does that play out, who’s first in line, who’s last, how is that prioritization going to happen,” said Fobbs.

Fobbs says the solution begins with education.

“It’s a whole other thing from a public health standpoint to make sure that everyone understands the why,” said Fobbs.

The two hope that when a COVID-19 vaccine does become available, it will be given to everyone who needs it.

“It’s really important that we’re being strategic, that we’re being non-political, and really focusing on what’s best for the health of our great nation,” said Fobbs.

Greene also says that the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute is working with Pfizer on ways to build trust and make sure there’s equitable distribution of the vaccine.