Relatives of Tuskegee experiment victims launch pro-vaccine ad campaign

Kendall Tietz, DCNF

Relatives of victims of the Tuskegee experiment, who unknowingly underwent federal experimentation in a syphilis study, are launching a campaign Wednesday to encourage skeptics to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the Associated Press reported.

Nearly half a dozen relatives of Tuskegee victims are taking part in the campaign to combat using study as a reason people cite for not getting vaccines, the AP reported. The campaign is part of the Ad Council’s larger initiative to encourage vaccinations.

The campaign aims to fight lingering distrust of the American healthcare system felt by many black Americans as a result of the study, The Hill reported.

From 1932 to 1972, in what is referred to today as the USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, involved 600 black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, 399 of which had syphilis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Participants informed consent was not collected,” and study subjects were told they were being treated for “bad blood,” according to the CDC.

In 1943, penicillin was becoming widely available and recognized as the primary treatment for syphilis, but participants were not offered the drug to treat their condition, because researchers wanted to study the “natural history” of the disease, according to the CDC.

One of the victim’s descendants and the former mayor of Tuskegee, Omar Neal, 63, said he was unsure about the vaccine at first, but after doing research became more confident and agreed to be a part of the campaign.

’’I want to save lives,” Neal told the AP. ‘’I didn’t want people to use Tuskegee and what transpired there as a reason for not taking the vaccine.’’

Neal is the relative of Freddie Lee Tyson who was a victim of the Tuskegee study. Tyson’s daughter, Lillie Tyson Head and his granddaughter Carmen Head Thornton are among the participants in the ad campaign, the AP reported.

As a young girl, Thornton realized what happened to her grandfather and has since pledged her life fighting health inequities and injustice, she told the AP. She sees the COVID-19 vaccine as a way to improve disparities and help the black community with the pandemic.

‘’It’s really up to us to take ownership of our health and this story,” Carmen Head Thornton says in one of the advertisements, the AP reported.

New data released by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed a “wait and see” approach by 22% of black Americans before receiving the vaccine.

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