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Tuskegee Syphilis Study on Black Americans Created Mistrust of COVID Shots

older black man

A 2024 study published in the Journal of Population Economics reveals that the long-term effects of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted between 1932 and 1972 significantly affected the decision making by Black Americans in southern states when they weighed the risks and benefits of getting COVID-19 shots.1

Xiaolong “Chris” Hou, lead author of the study and doctoral student at University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia said that he and his colleagues were interested in examining the uptake of COVID shots in the South and understanding whether the Tuskegee experiments affected the likelihood that Black Americans living in the area where the syphilis experiment was conducted had a positive or negative attitude toward getting COVID shots.2

The study evaluated whether there was a causal relationship between the Black population’s hesitation to receive COVID shots and their exposure to information about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.3

Black Americans Living in Tuskegee Area Avoided COVID Shots

The findings of the study revealed that Black Americans living in counties within a 750-mile radius of Tuskegee, Alabama, where the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was conducted, were more knowledgeable about the event and, as a result, were more likely to have a higher level of mistrust of public health officials and were more likely to avoid getting COVID shots.4

The results showed that Black Americans living within that geographic area were slower to get COVID shots compared to White individuals in the same county, and even when compared to Black communities in other parts of the United States, where it is believed that the memory and information about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study is “less alive”.5

While researchers were looking at whether living close to Tuskegee was uniquely contributing to Black Americans avoiding the COVID shot, they also analyzed the effects of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre,6 which involved a violent riot between armed mobs of White and Black residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The results revealed that memories and information about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre had no impact on the rates of COVID-19 shots among Black Americans.7 Xiaolong Hou concluded that the reason for this is that, unlike the government sponsored Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted by public health officials, the U.S. government was not involved in the Tulsa Race Massacre. He stated:

Why Tuskegee specifically matters here is because of the involvement of government agencies like the NIH and the CDC, which are also central to the current vaccine initiative and promotion.8

Unethical Experimentation on Black Men

In 1932, the United States Public Health Service launched a human experiment in Macon County, Alabama to observe the health effects of untreated syphilis. Physician researchers systematically studied the full progression of syphilis, a degenerative disease that did not have an effective treatment or cure at the beginning of the experiment in 1932 .

Approximately 600 Black men, who were sharecroppers, were enrolled in the study. About 399 subjects had latent syphilis, while 201 healthy men also were recruited to participate in the study. They were promised free meals, free medical exams, and burial insurance.9

Public health researchers told participants they were receiving treatment for “bad blood,” a term used locally by people to describe a range of illnesses that included, but were not limited to, anemia, fatigue, and syphilis. The only “treatment” was the administration of iron tonic and aspirin to participants.

About a decade after the study had begun, penicillin was found to be a very effective treatment for syphilis.10 However, doctors conducting the Tuskegee study continued to experiment on the men and withheld treatment from them, even after they knew penicillin was a cure.11

In 1972, a whistleblower attorney Fred Gray filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Tuskegee experiment victims and won a multi-million-dollar settlement. The money funded medical care for survivors and their families. However, 128 participants died of syphilis and related complications; 40 wives of study participants were infected with syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.

The U.S. government did not issue a formal apology to the Tuskegee study  participants and their families until 1997, and no one was prosecuted for the deaths and injuries that were caused in the human experiment conducted. by public health officials.12


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Click here to view References:
1 Hou X et al. The lasting impact of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study: COVID-19 vaccination hesitation among African Americans. Journal of Population Economics 2024; 34(41).
2 University of Georgia College of Public Health. Study underlines role of past injustices in medical mistrust. Apr. 2, 2024.
3 Hou X et al. The lasting impact of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study: COVID-19 vaccination hesitation among African Americans. Journal of Population Economics 2024; 34(41).
4 Ibid.
5 University of Georgia College of Public Health. Study underlines role of past injustices in medical mistrust. Apr. 2, 2024.
6 Tulsa Historical Society & Museum. 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. 2024.
7 Hou X et al. The lasting impact of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study: COVID-19 vaccination hesitation among African Americans. Journal of Population Economics 2024; 34(41).
8 University of Georgia College of Public Health. Study underlines role of past injustices in medical mistrust. Apr. 2, 2024.
9 Equal Justice Initiative. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Oct. 30, 2022.
10 Dawson M. Syphilis: The Painful History of an Odd Bug. Everyday Health Oct. 13, 2022.
11 Equal Justice Initiative. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Oct. 30, 2022.
12 Ibid.

2 Responses

  1. The military has been experimenting on all American military, not just blacks. They used them for nuclear radiation experiments during WW II, sprayed a known BIOWEAPON called Agent Orange on them in Vietnam, exposed them to depleted nuclear uranium radiation in shells in wars since, along the many experimental shots given to all military. Not one vaccine has been proven to be safe or effective. The US Supreme Court calls vaccines, “Unavoidably unsafe”.
    Then to top it all off the VA and military both claimed Gulf War Illness did not exist as a physical disease, till Congressman Kucinich from Ohio chaired a meeting in 1999, with top medical experts from across the country, showing the VA and military were colluding to deny GWI existed, to “save money”. To top it off, the VA and military were slandering the veterans and saying they were crazy.

    This is our government.

  2. The study did not end in 1972— it moved to Guatemala in the late 1940x and those victims living in the US are followed by NIH physicians in nearby Maryland.
    Thomas Cutler who over saw the study got nominated for the Thomas O Parren award after the unexplained outbreak of syphilis in Russia following the demise of the Soviet Union.

    At least the Russians know who is running their country.

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