From the Desk of Susan Townley
This is a moment that calls for tough love.
It is essential that American Blacks set aside the unresolved issues they carry in their bodies and minds that result from the enslavement of their predecessors. Coronavirus is a killer and we have only 2 ways of protecting ourselves from this killer: We can avoid it by wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and sheltering in place, or we can be vaccinated and enjoin those around us to do so as well until we achieve herd immunity. There are no other ways to survive this pandemic. The Black community must not allow itself to buy into, “We must not allow ourselves”, “you must not allow yourselves to less to Trump and his cronies obfuscation. Trump does not care how many people of color fall victim to COVID-19 because his only concern is that inconveniences him.
The Black Community cannot allow past insults and assaults to lead them to be unwise to about the Coronavirus by acting as it would be unsafe to be vaccinated against coronavirus. In the past, the whistleblower who made the public health and medical communities recognize the outrages perpetrated against the Black community of Tuskegee between 1932 and 1972. These outrages continue to lead Black Americans to question whether the coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective. Despite Donald Trump’s mystifying behavior, the medical and scientific communities have been ethical, transparent, and determined in carefully determining the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines developed over the last 2 decades to protect the American public from the SARS viruses, morality, and honesty are highly valued.
Although it does not seem to be that way, we are this public health lifeboat together. Donald Trump’s unseemly behavior has increased the risk associated with SARS CoV-2 to which each of us is exposed. This is far from being the only public health danger promoted by the Trump Administration. Savagely misogynistic “physicians” in the employ of the Trump Administration’s ICE are forcing female undocumented immigrants who came to the United States in search of safety and economic survival to undergo sterilization because of the racial and economic hatred fomented by the political right.
The horror of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study is offered as an explanation of the Black community’s reluctance to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. This explanation is totally inaccurate, or implausible since it denies the actual robust response to the medical and public health professionals’ reaction to whistleblower-reports of the violation of the dignity and health of the subjects Tuskegee Syphilis study. Not only did the ACLU settle its class-action lawsuit against the US Public Health less than a year after the publication of the first whistleblower reports. In the 1973, the settlement awarded the 600 subjects and their families $10 million in 1973 or 61.5 million in today’s dollars, but the ethical foundations of the practice of public health were transformed. These foundations are sacrosanct. The first principles of public health following the Tuskegee Syphilis study are its ethical cornerstones:
Principles of Public Health
Non-maleficence is the precept that dictates that public health agents must anticipate risk and minimize the harm that may result from their actions. The health or well-being of an Individual or group may n0t be sacrificed to promote the common good or the greater good.
Beneficence calls for the maximization of benefits.
Actions must be evidence-based.
The promotion of sustainable effects is desirable.
Interventions should lead to an improvement in the quality of life.
People are autonomous individuals.
Informed consent is the method we use to assure an individual’s aut0nomy when faced with the need for medical care. Consent must never be assumed.
No public health action should manipulate, coerce, or deceive an individual or community.
The free will of individuals must be respected\
No public health activity should result in discrimination or stigmatization. Any action undertaken by public health activists must be transparent.
A public health intervention should eliminate existing social and health inequities.
Public health activists promote the good of vulnerable sub-populations.
Interventions should lead to the promotion of health and/or social equity.
Students of public health learn of the shame of Tuskegee on this first day of class because the academic public health really means “never again” associated with the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The practice of public health as we know it transformed the lives of American children since I was a child. My childhood was punctuated by a series of infectious diseases from which today’s children are protected by vaccines. As children in the 1950s, my brothers and I endured the mumps, chickenpox, measles, and German measles whereas my brother’s grandchildren were protected from most of these infectious diseases by vaccines.
I remember my parents’ dread that we would contract polio during the hot, humid summers of my childhood. When I started school in 1957, several of the children in my school were wheelchair-bound or crutches dependent. In June 1963 my family moved to Europe for several years. When we left for Europe the WHO required that we be vaccinated against a few diseases one of which was smallpox. The next time I left the United States, I learned that I no longer needed to be vaccinated against smallpox because it was eradicated in most of the world and would soon be eradicated throughout the world. While living in Europe, I attended an Irish boarding school. The 196os was the era when the Republic of Ireland was completing the herculean effort of eradicating TB, the highly contagious, highly morbid, and frequently fatal disease that had become endemic in the small country when it was under British rule. Because millions either died or were incapacitated by TB, the first minister of health knew that the future of the free state depended on ridding the country of a bacteria.
When we returned to the United States after a 6-year absence, it was striking to see that students in the grades behind me were free of the signs of polio. In the late 1970s, it seemed Americans forgot the tyranny of fear that results when it faces an epidemic of an emerging disease. The onset of AIDS/HIV was a terrifying time. While we have yet to have a vaccine for HIV, the disease that was 0riginally a death sentence has become a chronic disease. SARS emerged 2 decades ago which prompted the onset of the hugely important for the development of a vaccine that would save us from SARS CoV-2 a year after it emerged.