BUFFALO, N.Y. — The African American Health Equity Task Force in Buffalo is fighting mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Members of the task force say Black and Brown communities are less inclined to vaccinate because of past experiments that have compromised their health.
Shortly after the first dosages of the COVID-19 vaccine left the Pfizer facility, an ICU nurse in New York became the first to get the vaccine.
"The fact that she was a frontline worker, the fact that she is a woman, the fact that she is an African American woman, is very significant in terms of messaging," said Chair of the African American Health Equity Task Force, Pastor George Nicolas. "Making sure that people who need the vaccine the most will be first in line. Secondly, people of color in particular should have nothing to fear."
Pastor Nicolas says he's aware the latter won’t come easy for Black and Brown communities.
Veronica Moore of Williamsville says there is a fear of history repeating itself. Moore named the Tuskegee Experiment on Black men as an example.
"Our health officials told those 600 men that they were getting treatment for bad blood when really they were doing an experiment," said Moore. "Injecting them with syphilis, then the men would have sex with their wives, the wives would get infected, the wives would carry the babies, and then the babies would be infected and this went on for 40 years, even when they had something like penicillin."
The Henrietta Lacks case, by which cells were taken for medical research without consent, is another example a historical medical wrong that impacted African Americans.
"I think the first thing we have to acknowledge is that there was racism in medicine," said Dr. Alan Lesse, University at Buffalo.
Dr. Lesse is involved with the African American Health Equity Task Force and understands the mistrust between the Black community and doctors.
"We recognize that we have to make a special effort to delay any fears in the community that this is experimentation on African Americans. It is not. The trials were designed to ensure that African Americans were in the group because many times drugs had been approved with inappropriate numbers of minorities and then they find that it doesn't work as well or it doesn't work the same way," said Dr. Lesse.
Pastor Nicolas says that having minority researchers at the helm was critical to the latest vaccine clinical trials. He says diversity and inclusion were factored into the process.
"Vaccines are not one size fits all," said Moore. "We know that there are adverse effects. We know that vaccines are not safe for everyone."
Still, for Moore, it's the unknowns, like side effects that make her uncomfortable.
“All of the appropriate safety steps were taken," said Dr. Lesse. "I think these vaccines are going to be safe and effective and one of the major arms to fighting this pandemic."
Pastor Nicolas says distribution and access of the vaccine throughout communities of color should be the next priority.