Only 28% of young black New Yorkers are vaccinated, some fear the government is experimenting on them

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, Pool

Some interesting news at the NY Times today about the vaccine hesitant in New York City. It turns out that months after the big vaccine push only 28% of the city’s younger black residents (ages 18-44) are vaccinated. Why so low? According to the people the Times’ spoke to, there are several different reasons but all of them have to do with deep suspicion about what the government is doing.

“This is a major public health failure,” said Dr. Dustin Duncan, an epidemiologist and Columbia University professor.

In interviews, dozens of Black New Yorkers across the city — an aspiring dancer in Brownsville, a young mother of five in Far Rockaway, a teacher in Canarsie, a Black Lives Matter activist in the Bronx, and many others — gave a long list of reasons for not getting vaccinated, many rooted in a fear that during these uncertain times they could not trust the government with their health.

Considering some of the responses they heard from people, the Times is remarkably restrained about making any sort of editorial commentary. For instance, many people they spoke to made a connection between the pause of the J&J vaccine and the Tuskegee experiment.

“It reaffirmed my hesitance, it reaffirmed everything,” Ms. Shavuo-Goodwin, the graduate student and clinic manager, said. “It just shows Black lives don’t matter. You can test that on us just like you tested syphilis on us.”

This fear was echoed in interview after interview, from the Bronx to South Brooklyn, as many Black New Yorkers said the Johnson & Johnson suspension left them more anxious that the vaccines were unsafe, insufficiently tested and steered to Black neighborhoods. That fear has been slow to dissipate, even as much of the rest of the country got vaccinated.

“They’re experimenting on us,” said Knya White, 21, of Canarsie, Brooklyn, a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Look I get there’s a genuine reason for some extra vigilance on the part of black Americans, but this is basically a conspiracy theory. The J&J vaccine isn’t being tested on black New Yorkers. The pause was the result of a very small number of complications and the vaccine has since been re-approved for distribution with the addition of a warning. So, really, this reason makes no sense and yet you don’t get any hint of disapproval from the Times. There’s no expert shaming people for this decision.

I wonder how the Times would have covered the same basic story if they were reporting that only 28% of white conservatives were vaccinated. My guess is the story would have had a very different tone and maybe some stern warnings about how conspiracy theories could land people in the hospital.

There’s one last twist on this story. New York City recently announced a new vaccine mandate for restaurants, gyms, etc. That could create an interesting dynamic. If black residents are now disproportionately not allowed to go places, does that make the new mandate racist? Under the old definition of racism I think the answer would be no since the rule applies to everyone equally regardless of race. But under the new Ibram Kendi-inspired, anti-racist definition I think the mandate could be deemed racist since it results in an unequal outcome. We’ll have to wait and see how that develops.