Some African Americans concerned about COVID-19 vaccines

Posted at 5:23 AM, Dec 07, 2020

Berdetta Hodge has congestive heart failure and a blood condition known as thalassemia. Hodge says it's a daily battle just to stay healthy.

"With my health, I have to be very picky about what goes into my body when it comes to medication," she said

To help keep track of appointments and information, Berdetta relies heavily on her 26-year-old son, Jevin.

"My mother is my superhero. She's the strongest woman on the planet," said Jevin Hodge.

Like many Americans, Berdetta and Jevin have their reservations about the new Covid-19 vaccines, mainly because of how quickly they've been approved.

"It gives me a slight bellyache knowing we are moving through the process so quickly," Jevin said.

"I am a little skeptical because I want to know, how many of the people doing the trials for the vaccine are African American? How is it going to affect my immune system versus anyone else? So I am a bit leery," Berdetta added.

For Black Americans, mistrust in health care runs deeper than a new vaccine, as historically, a lesser value has been placed on the health and safety of Black lives.

Black people, for example, were often experimented on, like the famous Tuskegee experiments in 1932.

During the trials, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted syphilis studies on Black men and withheld knowledge, which was used to treat and better protect White patients.

"It does lead one to mistrust its use, there's no doubt," said Dr. Paul Underwood, reflecting on history and its impact on Black trust in the system.

Dr. Underwood is Berdetta's doctor and a member of the Association of Black Cardiologists. While he understands completely why African Americans would be skeptical of a coronavirus vaccine, he looks at it from a scientific perspective, closely following the clinical trials.

"I understand the rigor that is exacted on these new treatments as they come up. I have faith that once it's approved, it will be effective," he said.

But even with her doctor's endorsement, Berdetta and Jevin still have a lot of questions about the vaccine before being all-in.

"As African Americans, we are a lot less likely to trust the medical community because they haven't been our best friends in the past," Berdetta said.

"A vaccine doesn't work unless a vaccine is properly distributed. A vaccine doesn't work if not properly tested, and to make sure all of those components are in place before we release it to the general public," Jevin said. "Because one misstep in the process can have a catastrophic effect in our communities."

Jevin is pursuing a political career and Berdetta sits on the Tempe Union High School School Board. Berdetta says she puts a lot of thought into health issues that may come up in her district.