According to Black Women Rally for Action — a coalition of groups who provide a mechanism for women to advocate on behalf of their health and wellbeing — there have been a total of 160,593 diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County’s Black community, with 2,900 deaths.

Although the county Department of Public Health suggests getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is still the best way to prevent serious illness and death, there is still hesitancy. The Black community is lagging when it comes to vaccinations. Many African-Americans have been exposed to a variety of covid vaccine myths.

One of the myths is linked to Black history.

In the 1930s, approximately one out of every 10 Americans was suffering from syphilis. The illness was called “The Third Great Plague” due to its significant effect on the worldwide population. That ratio was even higher in the rural south. Then, in 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study was initiated in Tuskegee, Ala. This has been remembered as “The Tuskegee Experiment.” 

“The government came to town to study (experiment on) Negroes who had contracted this fast-spreading disease,” wrote Eric Patterson in an OW article last May. “The men were promised prime treatment and healthcare to further study and help eradicate this plague they called ‘Bad Blood.’ The study included men with and without syphilis. None were treated. All were given placebos.” 

Although penicillin treatment was developed and successfully distributed worldwide beginning in 1943, the Blacks involved in this government study would go untreated for another 30 years. 

“Additionally, their names were placed on a national ‘Do not treat’ list, and they were denied military service and job opportunities. Families were devastated,” Patterson wrote, noting that his grandfather was involved in the study. 

“Granddaddy’s story is why I got involved in California’s ‘Vaccinate All 58’ initiative,” wrote Patterson. “When African-Americans today cite that study as justification for not receiving the potentially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine, I’m baffled and perturbed.”

Patterson notes that the men in the syphilis study were not injected with anything. 

“This time, we are our own worst enemies,” he wrote. 

Dr. Branden Turner, who practices family medicine at the Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Medical Offices said he often has to counsel parents and debunk a number of other covid myths.

“They heard that fetal tissue cells are in the covid vaccine and this is 100 percent untrue,” Turner said, noting that the vaccine does not affect one’s genetics. “The vaccines are messenger RNA based. It’s the equivalent of giving you the instructions to build an Ikea table. It is not a fully developed table. Your body actually builds its own defense system.”

One of the more concerning myths, according to Turner, is that the vaccine would give a person COVID-19.

“It’s not giving you covid,” said the doctor. “It’s giving you a construction booklet. There is no live covid virus in the vaccine.”

Turner said he has had numerous discussions with parents about vaccination risks and the side effects children may experience. Oftentimes, he felt he was talking like a math professor.

“There is a one in 12 million chance of the vaccination causing a risk of blood clots,” he said. “Putting that in context: The odds of you getting in a car crash are 1 in 50, but we don’t stop driving cars. One in 12 million is a very, very, very rare side effect… there have been 14 cases in the whole country.” 

Turner noted that some patients have heard rumors of fertility complications.

“According to an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) statement, the vaccine does not cause infertility,” he said. “There were a lot of case reports that it affects the menstruation cycle, but there is not a case in which it affected fertility.”

According to the ACOG, A recent study of nearly 4,000 people found there was a very small, temporary change in menstrual cycle length after vaccination. Periods were late by less than one day on average and returned to normal within one or two months.

In that particular case, a myth can resemble a partial truth.

“People must place their trust on where their information is coming from,” Turner said, noting that it is difficult to compete with and debunk myths spread on social media, which have a much larger platform on the internet. 

“That is sometimes what we have to combat,” he said.

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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