As the coronavirus pandemic has progressed, and the need for a vaccine has become more urgent and apparent, the number of Americans who say they would take such a vaccine keeps falling. In particular, Black Americans — who have been among those hit hardest by the pandemic — are resistant to the idea. A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that only 27 percent of Black Americans and 46 percent of white Americans plan to get a coronavirus vaccine if and when one becomes available.
The perceived politicization of the vaccine process and unprecedented pace of Operation Warp Speed has led to doubts nationwide. Until very recently, President Trump was predicting that a vaccine could arrive ahead of Election Day, Nov. 3, contradicting members of his own coronavirus task force, who have repeatedly given less optimistic time frames that have turned out to be more realistic.
But whether a vaccine is ready next month or next year, many Americans may not trust it, even after it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey published in September found that 62 percent of Americans worry that political pressure from the Trump administration will lead the FDA to rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure it’s safe and effective. Whether that will change if a new administration is in office after Jan. 20 remains to be seen.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA and self-proclaimed “FDA point person on COVID-19 vaccines,” wrote an op-ed Tuesday in USA Today attempting to alleviate those concerns.
“We hope to ensure public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines by being transparent about FDA’s decision-making process,” he wrote. “Whether a vaccine is made available through an EUA [emergency use authorization] or through a traditional approval, FDA will ensure that it is safe and effective.
“Trust means everything.”
Trust, experts say, is crucial to Americans’ willingness to accept a COVID-19 vaccine. But for many Black Americans, that trust will be difficult to earn after a long history of exploitation and abuse by the health care system has led them to be wary of the U.S. medical establishment.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is the most famous example. Sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, the project enrolled uneducated Black men in the South without informing them of the purpose of the experiment, which was to study the natural progression of the disease. Participants went untreated for years after an effective cure had been discovered. A 1972 Associated Press story on the experiments, observing that “human beings with syphilis” had been “induced to serve as guinea pigs,” caused public outcry and finally brought the study to an end after 40