Relatives of Black men who were unknowingly enrolled in the infamous Tuskegee Study are promoting the COVID-19 vaccines in a newly launched ad campaign. The campaign kicked off on Wednesday (June 30) and involves relatives of the hundreds of men in Alabama who were denied treatment for syphilis for research for over 40 years.
“I want to save lives,” Omar Neal, former Tuskegee mayor and nephew of Freddie Lee Tyson, a victim of the unethical study, told The Associated Press. “I didn’t want people to use Tuskegee and what transpired there as a reason for not taking the vaccine,” Neal, 63, added.
When the COVID-19 vaccines first became available, Black Americans cited the Tuskegee Study, along with ongoing medical racism as points of hesitation to getting their dose. Lack of access, in addition to the collective memory of the study have also contributed to lags in vaccinations among Black people.
“Don’t deny ourselves the opportunity the men were denied,” Tyson’s 76-year-old daughter, Lillie Tyson Head, says in one of the ads, according to ABC News. Lillie, along with other daughters of Tuskegee Study participants were early voices speaking out about vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans.
Tyson’s granddaughter, Carmen Head Thornton also joined the campaign, stating in an ad, “It’s really up to us to take ownership of our health and this story.” The campaign, produced as part of the multimillion dollar Ad Council vaccine education initiative, also includes a mini documentary and shorter, one-minute versions for TV.
According to CDC data, 46% of Americans are fully vaccinated, while 54% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Racial disparities in access to the vaccine persist as death tolls show the same disproportionate impact on our communities.
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