Health Association of African Canadians addresses community mistrust of COVID-19 vaccine

Merdina Nangle-Palmer was the first person in Hamilton to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Hamilton Health Sciences

An infectious diseases physician addressed a group of people online saying that many Black people in North America are mistrustful of the COVID-19 vaccine for reasons that are rooted in the history of health issues in the African diaspora.

“We are worried about being guinea pigs or worried about the harm this vaccine could cause. But we do have good grounds to be mistrustful of the medical system, the government and the vaccine itself, because we have a history of being mistreated. We have a history of experimentation and exploitation,” said Dr. David Haase, who is now a retired physician.

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Haase was joined on Friday evening by a number of speakers, including Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health for Nova Scotia, and Lisa Colley, a health-care worker at Northwood — a long-term care facility in Halifax — to discuss the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and separate fact from fiction.

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This was done on Zoom as part of the Health Association of African Canadians’ first ‘African Nova Scotian COVID-19 Town Hall’ meeting.

“The aim of the town hall is to address concerns related to community mistrust in the COVID-19 vaccine, the response by government and Public Health, and health-care system overall,” said Sharon Davis-Murdoch, founding member and co-president of the Health Association of African Canadians.

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The Health Association of African Canadians (HAAC) was formed in 2000 to address African Canadian health issues and the systemic inequities affecting health.

Dr. Haase said the misuse of Black people in the medical system and in health care goes back to the time of slavery.

“Enslaved people were used for medical experiments, surgical experiments, many of them [ended up] with adverse health outcomes and even death in some instances,” he said.
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But one of the most notable instance of exploitation was the Tuskegee syphilis study that started in 1932 in the U.S., said Dr. Haase.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States, the study initially involved 600 Black men – 399 with syphilis and 201 who did not have the disease.

The CDC said the study was conducted without the benefit of patients’ informed consent. Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia and fatigue. In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness.

“In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance. Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years,” explains the CDC on their website.

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More recently in Toronto, Haase said that when it came to the screening of Black women for breast and cervical cancer, there was a lack of health data.

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“It’s medical racism, and it still goes on to this day,” he said.

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Haase applauded the work of Kizzmekia Corbett, an American immunologist at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who has been instrumental in developing the Moderna vaccine.

He also praised Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse and the first American to receive Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

“She decided that she’s going to step up and be the first to be injected with this vaccine,” Haase said.

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In Halifax, N.S., Lisa Colley, a health-care worker at Northwood, stepped up to get the vaccine after initially not wanting to take it.

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“I wasn’t sure if I should take it, especially hearing all of the different negative things about the vaccine,” Colley said, but she changed her mind and took the vaccine after she weighed the pros and cons.

“I was really afraid not to take it because I have a granddaughter who has cystic fibrosis — a lung disease — and if she contracted the coronavirus, it could be deadly,” Colley said.

Once she received the first dose, she said that about three days later she started to feel chilly, like she was coming down with something, but then that subsided, and once she received her second dose she had no symptoms or side effects whatsoever.

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“I just want to encourage everyone to take it. We come from a close-knit community. I’m from North Preston and I reside in Cherrybrook and, I know we mistrust health care and we have every right to,” said Colley.

“But we want to get back to normal, we want our lives to come back to the way it used to be … COVID-19 has been a big impact on the Black community, especially the Christian community … It is affecting us emotionally, socially, physically,” she added.

Colley hopes that community members will consider taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

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For the sake of length, Global did not cover the full discussion and what each speaker spoke about at the ‘African Nova Scotian COVID-19 Town Hall’ meeting, but people can listen to the full discussion here.

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