Writing Samples

  • Kandis Mascall

Virtual Event Sheds Light on Medical Racism as New Tech Aims to Track Covid Vaccine Disparities

Image provided by Wix

As the United States scrambles to get the population vaccinated against coronavirus, one group of organizers launched an initiative, primarily targeted towards Black Americans, to combat misinformation surrounding the various vaccines and hopefully empower more people of color to go get vaccinated. This as Black vaccination hesitation compounded with vaccine disparity could spell dire consequences for the community.

With little more than 10% of the American population vaccinated, the Black community continues to be vaccinated at a disproportionately lower rate, according to new research from public health experts at Emory University.

Enter, "Y'all getting vaccinated?" a virtual seminar that took place February 8 and was coordinated by Shukri Olow. Olow is a politician currently running to represent the 5th District for the King County Council in Washington state. However, the event was open to all, not just Washington residents.

According to the event website, the seminar was described as "panelists of Black health professionals giving a timeline of health injustice faced by the Black community, from Tuskegee to the deep disparities of this global pandemic and its toll on the Black community."

In an op-ed originally published in the Washington Post, Deirdre Cooper Owens writes, "Medical racism is not a new phenomenon. It did not start with either the Tuskegee syphilis study or Henrietta Lacks... The origins stretch back centuries and created a system of belief and practice that allowed doctors to place blame on Black people for not having the same health outcomes as White people."

Dr. Sandra Walker, a psychologist, discussed the aforementioned 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, and the impact the heinous trials have had on the Black perception of public health, "All of those things have led people who are in vulnerable populations to think twice about participating in human experimentation and about certain aspects of healthcare."

The nearly 2-hour event, attended by nearly 600 people, featured a panel comprised of Black doctors, health experts, and community leaders from various institutions including the NAACP Seattle King County branch, the Governor’s Interagency Council on Health Disparities, and the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Dr. Tracy Hilliard, Courtesy MPHI

One of the first speakers on the panel was, Dr. Tracy Hilliard, a public health researcher who also serves as one of the directors at the Michigan Public Health Institute in Seattle. "As we think about COVID-19 and the vaccines available, so much of people's concern is around structural racism and systemic inequities in institutions," said Dr. Hilliard during the event.

As the pandemic rages on, new data continues to bolster Dr. Hilliard's assessment. Emory University hosted a briefing on February 11 where experts from the institution discussed new technology that could assist with tracking racial disparities with COVID-19 vaccine. It's called the COVID-19 Health Equity Dashboard and is spearheaded by Shivani Patel, assistant professor in global health and epidemiology. “The pandemic has really brought to light to the forefront, deep racial socioeconomic and structural inequalities that have always existed in this country, but has brought them to the mainstream, especially with respect to the health disparities," said Patel during the briefing.

Even with this new technology, researchers have only been able to work with limited data. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), only 23 states are reporting vaccination data by race and or ethnicity, which in turn only gives a snapshot of the overall issue. The KFF noting how this can reflect future data reports, "These data raise early concerns about disparities in vaccination but are also subject to gaps, limitations, and inconsistencies that limit the ability to draw strong conclusions and compare data across states."