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Issue 17 Out Now

To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate

COVID-19 and Black People’s Recurring Choice Between the Lesser of Two Evils

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question. To be clear, this question that plagues the minds of thousands across the nation is one that only exists because of the failure of government to proactively manage the spread of COVID-19 from its onset. The fate of the nation is now made the responsibility of the people when the reality of the pandemic is the consequence of ineffective government.

To work through my own feelings about the possibility of a vaccine, I asked a group of friends, “When a vaccine becomes available, will you get vaccinated? Why or why not? If you’re undecided, how likely are you to get vaccinated on a scale of 1–10?”. The general consensus amongst the group was that no one wanted to be vaccinated — at least not before white people and not until any potential effects were identified.

For so many of us, the apprehension towards a vaccine takes root in the (dis-)United States’ problematic history with regards to medicine in Black communities. On the one hand, Black people — who are most impacted by COVID-19 — are amongst the most in urgent need of a vaccine. On the other hand, however, Black people know all too well how quickly a vaccination can turn into an involuntary medical experiment. Perhaps this is what is most challenging to work through. No matter how ineffective and, in many cases, harmful western medicine proves itself to be in Black communities, our response to COVID-19 pandemic is much more complex than simply choosing or not choosing to be vaccinated.

Responses to a potential COVID-19 vaccine are rightfully varied in Black communities; but, considering the most common of these responses on-balance might make your personal decision a bit easier.

“Let’s wait until they work out the kinks.”

The most common response to the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine is to wait until any adverse effects are identified and managed before receiving a vaccination. On the surface. this response seems simple enough considering so little is known about the long or short term effects of the coronavirus on the body. However, is the option to wait not a privilege unafforded the most marginalized and vulnerable? Can immunocompromised people afford to wait for further data and studies? What then for those who find it too risky to wait to be vaccinated?

Moreover, what merits do Black people have to justify a decision either way? And what does it say about the state of this nation when Black people are both justifiably cautious about the adverse impacts of being vaccinated and equally concerned about the state of our community if we do not?

It’s like getting a new iPhone. You always wait until they send the first update to buy it, so you know your phone will come updated. Trejen McDougald

For some, white people being among the first to have access to a vaccination is not a horrible idea. The train of thought here is that if there are kinks to work out, white people would bare the impact of them. While not wholly feasible, this line of thinking offers a humorous but poignant critique of white privilege. If any COVID-19 vaccine is going to render any negative effects, those most equipped to navigate the would be those who’ve historically had greater access to health care, more benefits, less socioeconomic impacts etc. The problem here is that it assumes the vaccine cannot be trusted. What happens if the vaccine is safe and effective? What will we have gained from waiting, other than more deaths? Further, what happens if genetics causes different responses to the vaccine and Black people’s response cannot be thoroughly researched because we largely declined the vaccination?

I do fear what side effects could take place by taking the vaccine so early. I mean, how much has it really been tested? This vaccine is being created in response to a crisis, I don’t know how confident I can be in the scientist and doctors ensuring that they’re accounting for all the harms and risks, or if they can even know so soon. Kiara Chatman

Take the vaccine and risk bearing the weight of any unaccounted-for side effects or lapses in research; or, decline the vaccination and continue to bear the weight of a disease that has already disproportionately hurt Black families. These two evils that face the Black community leave us with a seemingly impossible decision. For some, the risk associated with waiting is less than the risk of running to the doctor at the first sign of a vaccine. For others, running to the doctor at the first sign of a vaccine is the only thing that feels promising about the last year and is the only hope of healing. Black people are bullied — once again — into choosing the lesser of two evils and hoping for the best.

I think that there are strong political and scientific reasoning behind my decision to wait for the vaccine to prove effective in other demographics before we’re amerikkka’s guinea pig again. Aasir Mecca

The country looks now to the individual, to save her from the chaos of her government and deliver her into a place of healing, with no real accountability or recompense from those who brought us here. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a painful experience for the world and the possibility of a vaccine could be an indication that things are going to get much better — or worse. So whether you decide to vaccinate or not to vaccinate, be sure to consider all your options, do your own research, and do what’s best/makes the most sense for you.

Where we go from this moment, however uncertain and bordered with fear; we must know, we cannot stay here.

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