Granddaughter of Tuskegee Experiment victim urges Black Americans to get COVID-19 vaccine

Tuskegee Experiment led to deep mistrust

As many people are searching for a chance to get their COVID-19 vaccine, a substantial number of Black Americans remain reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Some of those fears are rooted in a horrific medical experiment that led to a deep mistrust. It stems from the Tuskegee Experiment, in which 600 black men were lured into a study with the promises of free health care. Instead, many were left untreated for syphilis as part of a study that went on for decades.
As many people are searching for a chance to get their COVID-19 vaccine, a substantial number of Black Americans remain reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Some of those fears are rooted in a horrific medical experiment that led to a deep mistrust. It stems from the Tuskegee Experiment, in which 600 black men were lured into a study with the promises of free health care. Instead, many were left untreated for syphilis as part of a study that went on for decades.

As many people are searching for a chance to get their COVID-19 vaccine, a substantial number of Black Americans remain reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some of those fears are rooted in a horrific medical experiment that led to a deep mistrust. It stems from the Tuskegee Experiment, in which 600 black men were lured into a study with the promises of free health care. Instead, many were left untreated for syphilis as part of a study that went on for decades.

“There was an experiment used to develop some sort of a cure for syphilis, but they did not tell them what they were really doing and they experimented on African American men, women. As a result of that experimentation, some women were unfortunately not able to have children going forward, some people even died as a result of that, and there were all kind of effects of that and we didn’t know until years later,” said Reverend Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP.

READ: Medical community works to rebuild trust among people of color as COVID-19 vaccine gets approval

The granddaughter of one of those individuals who were abused is speaking out to help others overcome their doubt about the COVID-19 vaccine. Nutritionist Sharon Hawks said it has been hard to hear people citing the Tuskegee Experiment as one reason they’re reluctant to get a COVID vaccine.

“It’s always been a part of the family history. We didn’t talk about it much,” she said.

Hawk’s grandfather, Willie Harris, was part of the experiment until his death in 1960. From 1932 until 1972, the Federal Public Health Service used impoverished sharecroppers in rural Alabama to study the natural course of syphilis. The men were promised treatment, but only given placebos. The deceit led to a mistrust of medicine, which for some continues to this day.

“The fact that they experimented on him for so many years without him even knowing what they were doing is painful,” Hawks said.

Hawks said she doesn’t want that painful past to impact her community’s future. She’s helping run a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at her Maryland church.

“I felt it was a moral obligation to let people know and to get them comfortable with it,” she said.

READ: Amid coronavirus pandemic, black mistrust of medicine looms

She said her grandfather was denied treatment that could have extended his life. She hopes people don’t deny themselves a vaccine that could save their own life.

In Michigan, White residents are twice as likely to have received a COVID-19 vaccine as a Black resident. The state of Michigan admits that information about race is missing for more than 40 percent of Michigan’s vaccine recipients.

READ: How does Michigan’s COVID vaccination progress compare to other states?


About the Authors:

Kimberly Gill joined the Local 4 News team in November 2014. She was named Personality of the Year in 2009 by the Ohio Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame. She’s also a two-time Emmy winner.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.