Al Sharpton Says Black Americans Don't Trust Vaccines Because of History, Highlights Heightened Case Rates

Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton has said President-elect Joe Biden must deal with the racial disparity in COVID-19 cases and deaths, while he must also assure Black Americans to trust vaccines as he looks at ensuring they are rolled out equally.

Asked about actions Biden must take as he works on his transition to the White House, Sharpton said he must look at the disproportionate cases of COVID-19 among the Black community

"He must deal with the economic plight and he must deal with the racial disparity in COVID-19, Blacks and browns have been tested positive disproportionately and are dying disproportionately," Sharpton told MSNBC.

In regard to the rollout of a vaccine, he said: "So even as we hear about the vaccines that are being proposed by Pfizer and others, one, the present president says that they would distribute the vaccine if it becomes available in this time period through hospitals and health centers. But many Black Americans live in healthcare deserts, where there are no hospitals or healthcare centers in our area. So he must come up with how we will see equal distribution of vaccine."

Outlining another challenge, he said: "Many in the African American community, we don't trust vaccines because of past history like the Tuskegee experiment. He needs to deal with that health disparity, particularly in light of COVID-19."

Commenting on how this could be done he spoke of potentially boosting infrastructure, calling on Biden to discuss the matter with groups such as the Congressional Black Caucus.

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932 to 1972, in which 600 African-American men from Macon county, Alabama, were recruited for a study into the effects of the disease and the cardiovascular and neurological damage caused. Of those, 399 had syphilis though were not told this. After an original months-long study did not find the results the researchers wanted, they continued assessing the men until their deaths—with treatment with penicillin, available from the mid-1940s, withheld from those involved.

Sharpton's comments on the racial disparity in COVID-19 come with figures showing Black Americans to have experienced the highest death tolls relatively of any ethnicity. Figures from APM Research Lab showed Black and indigenous Americans suffering the greatest loss of life amid the pandemic.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures showed Black Americans were 2.6 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than white Americans, 4.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with it and 2.1 times more likely to die from the disease.

Polling has shown non-white Americans are less likely than white Americans to be open to being vaccinated. A Gallup poll of 2,895 American adults conducted October 19 to November 1 found overall 58 percent of those asked would agree to be vaccinated if the an FDA-approved vaccine was available at no cost.

Among white respondents, 61 percent said this, while among non-white respondents 48 percent did.

Newsweek has contacted Sharpton and the Biden transition team for comment.

Biden has previously spoken of a potential delay to vaccines being rolled out nationwide, due to hurdles to his transition team as it lacks certain resources amid President Donald Trump's continued push against the election outcome.

The debate over vaccines comes with confirmed COVID-19 cases having surpassed 12 million in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University figures.

al sharpton
Rev. Al Sharpton speaks at the March 2020 on Washington, officially known as the “Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks,” at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, in Washington, D.C. He has spoken of the need to tackle the racial disparity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Daniel Knighton/Getty Images