The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Black Americans should not shun vaccines because of the Tuskegee study

An archival photograph from the Tuskegee syphilis study, which tracked the disease in hundreds of black men while withholding treatment.
An archival photograph from the Tuskegee syphilis study, which tracked the disease in hundreds of black men while withholding treatment. (Department of Health, Education, and Welfare/Public Health Service)

The July 20 front-page article “Vaccine skeptics fuel black mistrust” was disturbing on many levels.

In the ongoing novel coronavirus health crisis, black Americans desperately need distance from their angst and suspicions about the Tuskegee syphilis study. Clearly, this type of uninformed thinking can result in susceptibility to questionable alliances. The prospect of black Americans denying themselves a potential vaccine because of the Tuskegee study and an alliance with anti-vaccine activists is disturbing. People not taking a vaccination is reminiscent of the Tuskegee study scenario — not receiving vaccinations and only being observed.

Critics may call this a genocidal “experiment” — with no official authorization — but officials will collect data or count the bodies. Instead of mitigating against the coronavirus crisis, black Americans will become the new Tuskegee study-like victims by “withholding” vaccination — prompted by suspect reasoning and misinformed action. And unfortunately, as they wrongly believe about the Tuskegee syphilis study, they will, as stated in the article, “end up like the people in Tuskegee.”

Robert M. White, Silver Spring

The writer is a retired Food and Drug Administration medical reviewer who is researching black medical history for a re-analysis of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis.

Read more letters to the editor.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.