The Ontario government enforced mandatory vaccine restrictions on Sept. 22, 2021.
It’s understandable why people are getting the vaccine.
Public Health Ontario released data from Sept. 27, 2021 showing within the last 14 days, 9,397 cases were reported and a total of 9,715 deaths. Cases in those vaccinated result in mild symptoms like a sore throat or low-grade fever.
Despite this, racialized communities are less likely to get vaccinated. In September 2020, 77 per cent of Black respondents were “not very likely to take a vaccine,” based on data collected from Statistics Canada. This rate was 20 times higher than responses from white people.
The divide between ethnic communities and the healthcare industry is driven by historical barriers such as racism and broken trust.
Racism is rooted in the medical industry drawing back to slavery.
There was, and still is, a belief that Black people don’t feel pain the same way white people do. This notion was once justified based on the abuse slaves faced.
There are too many instances of Black people seeking help and in return their health is not taken seriously. Racialized communities are in turn forced to cope with intergenerational trauma such as the fallout from the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
Dating back to 1932, this study is an example of how trauma experienced in previous generations is passed down through subsequent ones.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and Tuskegee Institute on 600 Black men – 399 with syphilis and 201 without. The participants received free meals and checkups but weren’t informed by health officials they were human subjects in a study designed to withhold medical treatment.
Local leaders and medical workers convinced people to join the study knowing the circumstances surrounding it. Similar circumstances are seen with the COVID vaccine: local leaders and healthcare officials are pressuring Black communities to get the vaccine. Arguably, this pressure could cause further vaccine hesitancy.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is not the only historical example. Black women were also subject to immense historical trauma in 1951 when Henrietta Lack’s cells were taken without consent for medical research. Her cells, called HeLa, had an incredible capacity to survive and reproduce.
Lacks died over 100 years ago and her body is still being unethically used. Henrietta Lack’s cells were used last year in research for COVID vaccines.
This mistrust has influenced fears and anxieties Black people have towards the healthcare industry.
Pop up clinics are appearing in areas with predominantly ethnic areas.
This raises suspicion over vaccine incentives.
For example, the unvaccinated community is being bribed into getting the jab. Corporations are even getting involved. The Hudson’s Bay Company has offered a 15 per cent discount to those who got vaccinated.
Racialized communities are the lowest vaccinated community and have the highest mortality rate from COVID.
Between January 2020 and January 2021, visible minorities averaged 35 deaths per 100,000 compared to an average 16 deaths in regions where less than one per cent of the population was visible minorities, according to Statistics Canada.
The vaccination gap runs deeper as there is a gender factor connected, specifically Black women.
Women from similar regions reported mortality rates three times higher than white women in places where between one and ten per cent were visible minorities.
Considering the historical background of racism and trauma combined with the massive push to get vaccinated, Black communities have the right to be hesitant. Racism still shadows the medical industry.
Add to this the fact that the wrong efforts are being made to help increase vaccine rates and here we are.
Instead of bribing Black communities with discounts and denying them access to activities, rebuild the medical care system.
Regaining trust by giving opportunities to Black doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. will make Black communities feel more comfortable and the quality of care will increase as more ethnic doctors will help break down barriers and biases. Focus should also be on educating communities about the vaccine rather than limiting their lives through vaccine regulations.
For example, vaccine information provided could be geared specifically to ethnic backgrounds to make racialized communities more informed and thus more confident in getting vaccinated.
The answer in combatting the virus is not in forcing people to get vaccinated, but rather allowing them to make their own informed decisions. This is especially important when taking into account the historical background of ethnic communities.