As the world begins to reopen, the question of how vaccines will play a role in them has been a popular topic of discussion. The pandemic has thrust the intentions of major corporations and the American government under a spotlight of intense scrutiny. Because of this spotlight, society has begun to analyze and understand the mechanics of inner workings of what it means to be a community divided.
A common reason why people distrust the vaccine is because of the belief that the government is trying to harm people. However, vaccines are one of the few ways that employers can ensure the safety of their employees, and it brings the U.S. one step closer to economic recovery. The economic implications of the pandemic have created a strong desire to return to normal. In addition to the loss of profits and supply chain shortages, many businesses have seen a drop in the labor pool. Fewer workers are reentering the workforce — especially in the service industry — for a variety of reasons. Some of it can be attributed to finding other jobs or sources for income that meet their needs better than others, but a large part of it is safety of work conditions. For service workers especially, constant social interactions with customers for pay that doesn’t reflect their hard work is exhausting. People just aren’t willing to put their lives on the line for jobs and a government that doesn't respect their presence — and companies are working double time to incentivize people to come back. The vaccines being provided for free isn’t a coincidence, either. It’s a coordinated effort between the government and businesses to create a functioning workforce.
However, this explanation doesn’t fully address this mistrust. The reasons why certain communities are hesitant about the vaccine sheds more light on the complexity of the issue. For Black and brown people especially, the fear behind the intentions of giving free vaccines stems from the centuries of mistrust, inhumane and harmful behaviors that have taken place within these communities. Since the foundation of this country, the medical community has subjected Black bodies to abuse, exploitation and experimentation. The most recent and notorious exploitation of these communities is the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Study. 400 sharecroppers were denied treatment for syphilis over 40 years and the U.S. Public Health Service allowed the citizens to die even after a cure was found. The discovery of the experiment was made public in 1972. The study participants won a $10 million class-action settlement in 1975 as well as an apology from President Bill Clinton in 1997.
The heightened sensitivity of Black and brown communities is warranted, and there is a desire to keep their communities safe — just not at the expense of their own health. However, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s end goal is not medical experimentation or exploitation. Their focus on economic recovery has centered the preservation of people’s lives in ways they never have. The government rarely considers the needs of the most marginalized in our community unless it benefits their initiatives directly, and co-opting sentiments is not a new thing for a government and economic system that prioritizes profits over people. However, ulterior motives don’t discount the importance of collectivism during this time. So yes, providing the vaccines at no cost is a major incentive for people to go back to work. But doing what we can to keep other members of our community safe can be separate from these intentions.
It has been noted that a major feature of American society is the strong individualism that exists within the culture. While it is true that this trait is evident throughout American political development, its role has been overly exaggerated. Along with individualism, there is also the strong sense of collectivism that has been pushed by both the government and corporations onto the people. However, this sense of collectivism is only pushed when the government or corporations can prey on the community for their benefit.
By Aminah Jenkins, Associate Editor, and Sofia Gomez, Podcasting Director