Black Church Leaders React to Covid-19 Vaccine Comments

Sep 15, 2020
Originally published on September 15, 2020 12:20 pm

Last week, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont remarked that he needed to work with Black-led churches on education initiatives that would help Black residents learn about COVID-19 vaccines. Some faith leaders say Lamont ignored the history of racial abuse in the medical industry that led to distrust of new treatments or studies among some in the Black community.

Bishop John Selders, who leads a racial justice group called Moral Monday CT, says the question is bigger than asking faith leaders to promote a vaccine.

"How do we overcome a history of experimentation and abuse supported by our government at the hands of Black and brown people in this country?" Selders asks.

Selders says the Tuskegee Syphilis Study of 1972 is just one example of the unethical ways federal government researchers exploited people based on their race. That study promised Black men they would get free health care from the US government, but participants were not told they were given experimental treatments as part of a study. The aftermath led to the National Research Act mandating ethics approval for medical studies and protections for patient rights.

Lamont made the comments after a survey from the non-profit, DataHaven, showed 38% of Black residents would get vaccinated for COVID-19. That's compared to 67% of white residents. Selders says even if Lamont had reached out to him privately for help regarding the vaccine education, rather than hearing about it through news media, he would still have reservations.

“If you are approaching me to somehow leverage whatever goodwill and credibility I have with the communities that I serve to forward your agenda, you have another thing coming," Selders says of Lamont's comments.  

The governor's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Selders says he wants Lamont to address the underlying issue.

“I’m appalled that there is just a push to put pressure on myself and my colleagues to lead the way yet again, without an acknowledgement that there is something here that exists that we need to talk about," Selders says that something is the ways distrust of the medical industry stems from institutional racism. "Can we say white supremacy, can we say racism, and their effects in this country?”

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