Decades later, infamous Tuskegee syphilis study stirs wariness in Black community over COVID-19 vaccine


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By Kurtis Lee, The Los Angeles Times

TUSKEGEE, Ala.  —  Omar Neal often thinks back on the calculated betrayal of hundreds of Black men and how it still shapes so much about this rural Alabama community.

He remembers the mechanic who went from house to house fixing cars and the sharecropper who lived off a narrow dirt road. He thinks too of his uncle Freddie Lee Tyson, a carpenter, and how the betrayal shaped his life.

“These men believed so-called medical experts and were deceived,” said Neal, a lifelong resident of Tuskegee.

The name of the town evokes feelings of both pride and pain — for its legendary Black airmen and for the infamous government-backed healthcare study. For now, the legacy of the study, in which Black men with syphilis were left untreated for decades, stands front of mind for many contemplating whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine recommended by federal officials.

Neal’s uncle was among the more than 600 African American men from here who were enrolled under false pretenses in the deadly long-term health study coordinated and financed by the federal government beginning in the 1930s.

Some of the men who were victims of the Tuskegee syphilis study. (Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center)

Because the government researchers behind the Tuskegee syphilis study wanted to track the disease’s full progression, they treated the Black men in the study like lab rats, withholding for decades lifesaving treatment under the guise of free healthcare…

“Allowing those men to go that long without treatment was an American tragedy,” said Lillie Head, whose father, Freddie Lee Tyson, was a victim of the study. “Black folks have been treated so unfairly ever since we came to this country … not just medicine and overall — healthcare, education, you name it.”…

Head now oversees a group, Voices for Our Fathers Legacy Foundation, which includes descendants of those in the study who gather for meetings over Zoom….

[Tuskegee Mayor Haygood recently got his first dose of the Moderna vaccine, and video of the injection was posted to the city’s website….

“Back at that time our people were victims,” Ford said. “Today we are part of the solution. We have African Americans who are involved in science, African Americans who are involved in developing the vaccine. We are part of the solution.

See full article here

Learn more about Medical Apartheid here and here

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