The Hesitancy of Covid-19 Vaccinations Among African-Americans and the Causes

December 6, 2021
December 6, 2021 admin

The Hesitancy of Covid-19 Vaccinations Among African-Americans and the Causes

Tuskegee Syphilis Study… Henrietta Lacks… Cold War Radiation Experimentation on Black Cancer Patients… Need I say more? If you are unfamiliar with the names and events mentioned, these were experiments where black bodies were sacrificed for the “greater good” of American society.

In the United States, non-consensual experimental studies on African-Americans to further advance scientific research were not uncommon during and prior to the mid-20th century. Several instances of exploitation of black bodies have caused generational mistrust within communities of color. As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, discussion about the “new” vaccines has advanced such fears. The skepticism surrounding the trustworthiness of the vaccine rose rather quickly among people of color. Black Americans’ hesitancy to receive the COVID-19 vaccination is embedded in the roots of abusive American history.

The concerns within the Black community about the effects of vaccinations are generated from centuries of mistreatment and are arguably largely caused by the unethical experimental studies and well-documented modern-day prejudices within the healthcare system. According to, “a nationally representative sample of 207 Black Americans (conducted in November–December 2020) found high levels of vaccine hesitancy and mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines in the overall sample, and (sadly), among health care workers in particular.” Black Americans are guarded about taking the vaccination (perhaps) rightfully so.

One of the most widely known experimentations conducted on African-Americans is the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” where 400 African-American men who sought treatment for Syphilis were unknowingly denied needed medications between the years 1942-1972.  As a result, approximately 100 patients, sexual partners and offspring of patients tragically died. This heinous act was carried out so that scientists could observe the reactions of advanced stages of Syphilis on the human body.

Some in the black community felt pressure from the healthcare industry and elected officials to become vaccinated against COVID-19.  Many in the community felt that representatives of the same institutions that historically led our people to medical dismay, are now pushing our community to be some of the first to take “a new” vaccination.

I asked some Black and Hispanic Rider University students about their feelings concerning the University mandating the COVID-19 vaccination as a requirement to come back on campus. A returning senior, stated “I think to dorm on campus, a vaccine should be required, but I feel like Rider pushed student’s boundaries when they required the vaccine for in person classes.” This was a popular debate amongst many college students around the world who were returning back to living on their college campuses. How much of a say do we have over our own bodies?  Of course, we want to experience living with our peers again and continuing our education in person, but is it (the vaccination) worth it?

When I asked about any hesitations the returning senior stated that she may have had about receiving the vaccine, she expressed that regardless of the mandate, she would have taken the shot due to the horror stories she read about the people who had contracted COVID-19 and the long-term effects it might cause. Waiting until the people close to her received their vaccinations and observing how it affected them is what ultimately led to her decision to get vaccinated.

In response to the question, “What are the common reasons you’ve heard from people that aren’t taking the vaccine?” The senior responded, “I heard that people were not taking the vaccine because they created it very quickly, therefore they couldn’t trust it. I also heard that it makes people infertile.” This is another fear that made many young women including myself worry about how the COVID vaccination and my return back to school could ultimately impact my life decisions in the future.

My second interviewee, a sophomore Rider student, explains how the pandemic was a scary time because his mother worked as a nurse in the COVID unit in a hospital. Although the student’s parent was a healthcare worker, they were still hesitant to receive the vaccine because they believed not enough information about the vaccine was made apparent. The student also addressed the many conspiracy theories they’ve heard about the vaccine, such as “the government supposedly putting chips (to track Americans) in the vaccine.  There were several news outlets, public opinions, and political figures that played a role in many people’s decision to get vaccinated. Who was to be trusted?

My third interviewee expressed that the Covid-19 pandemic was a very stressful time due to the fear of not knowing when and if things would ever go back to normal. When asked about Rider’s vaccination mandate, the student stated that they knew it would be required due to other schools’ announcements and the population on campus. When discussing the initial thoughts of the vaccine, the interviewee says, “the news of the vaccine (was) positive & negative. I was positive in the hope that this could be the way that things would turn back to normal but I was negative because I was worried (about) how fast the vaccine took when there are many illnesses out there with no vaccine. I also don’t believe in putting things in my body that I don’t have a full knowledge of.”  They continued, “I was 50/50 with taking the vaccine because it was just stressful to know if this would really work or not.” This is a common sequence I found throughout many of the students I interviewed.

On the positive side, some students also heard assertions from people who chose to be vaccinated, such as “the vaccine is 100% safe”, “it’s FDA & CDC tested and approved”, “the more who get vaccinated, the less of a spread happens and we can start living our lives somewhat like before.” These sorts of discussions are what made the interviewees think more positively about receiving the vaccine.

The problem that arises is how and what can we do to address these issues. Although African-Americans may have perceived reasons to not want to take the vaccine, we are also faced with the issue that COVID-19 has greatly affected our community. There is a need for education within the communities that are fearful to receive vaccinations. In order for a vaccine to be effective, people have to take it.

Most hesitancy from the vaccine stems from the idea that it was rushed in being created and distributed within a year or less. However, this idea that the coronavirus vaccination is new is not factual. Dr. Eric J. Yager, an associate professor of Microbiology at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Albany, NY, told Medical News Today that “scientists have been studying coronaviruses for more than 50 years.” SARS-CoV-2, the virus that is responsible for COVID-19, has allowed the vaccine to be distributed within a faster time frame.

Vaccinations are a personal choice, but to what extent is that personal choice affecting the population as a whole? From the interviews conducted, there is a clear pattern of misinformation, disinformation, and skepticism. As a country that wants to return back to living our “normal” lives, we have to consider the populations that are fearful of receiving vaccinations due to historical deception in the medical field.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccination be sure to follow the links listed below!

By:  Rikiyah Mixson


Works Cited

Bogart, Laura M., et al. “Vaccine Hesitancy Is High among Black Americans, Including Health Care Workers.” RAND Corporation, 1 Mar. 2021,

Butanis, Benjamin. “The Legacy of Henrietta Lacks.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, Based in Baltimore, Maryland, 8 Nov. 2021,

Gamble, Molly. “Stop Assuming Black Americans Don’t Want the Vaccine Because of Tuskegee, Critics Say.” Becker’s Hospital Review,

Jones, Jae. “Cold War Radiation Experiment on Black Cancer Patients (1960-1971).” Black Then, 14 June 2020,