Vaccine Hesitancy in Black & Indigenous Communities in the US & Canada: Historical Trauma in Action

Spring 2021

Multicultural & Diversity Section page (p. 12)
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Claire J. Starrs (Section Editor) & Awehiawaks K. Herne

SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, Black and Indigenous communities, in the United States and Canada, have been disproportionally impacted with more infections and deaths (Chung et al., 2020; Tai et al., 2021). The arrival of effective vaccines gave the whole of the planet some much-needed light at the end of the COVID tunnel. However, vaccines the beginning of the rollout has revealed considerable ambivalence about getting the lifesaving vaccine shot in both Black and Indigenous communities. It would be facile to attribute this hesitancy to a lack of education and a general distrust of authorities, as this focuses responsibility exclusively on Black and Indigenous individuals and is conveniently dismissive of the long history of medical racism and trauma perpetuated on these communities.

HISTORICAL TRAUMA.It is vital for medical professionals and policy makers to understand that vaccine hesitancy in these communities is not founded on baseless fears, solely born of antivaxxer scaremongering. The US and Canada have a long history of medical racism, in particular, cruel nonconsensual medical procedures and experimentation on Black and Indigenous persons.

BLACK MEDICAL TRAUMA. Racist beliefs about biological differences have existed since the Enlightenment when naturalists were cataloguing the natural world and extending this categorization to people. They fanatically measured and compared, and specifically sought out “data” to support the notion that White people were “naturally superior.” Early examples include: “lighter weight of brain; exceedingly thick cranium; a thick epidermis” (Plous & Williams, 1995). The racist myth that Black people experience less pain dates from this era, this belief, has been shown to persist until this day, even among medical residents, such that Black people’s pain is systematically underestimated and undertreated (Hoffman et al., 2016). [Continue…]