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‘This is not Tuskegee’: Elected officials work to build Black trust in COVID-19 vaccine

West Side-based Black elected officials held a press conference Sunday aimed at curbing Black distrust of the COVID-19 vaccine.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill, received the COVID-19 vaccine in Washington D.C. earlier this week.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill, received the first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
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Black elected officials from the West Side held a virtual press conference Sunday to encourage Chicagoans, especially Black residents, to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available to them.

“I have taken the vaccine,” said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., who was vaccinated Dec. 20 in Washington, D.C. “I have had it injected into my body, and I guarantee that if I thought it would in any way harm myself or any other people, I would never ever recommend it.”

Black Americans are one of the groups most hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 35% of Black adults said they “definitely or probably would not get vaccinated.”

Some of the elected officials referenced the Tuskegee experiment as a major reason why Black Americans distrust the COVID-19 vaccine. Hundreds of Black men, many of whom had syphilis, were told they would be treated for the disease but in fact were misled and never given adequate treatment.

“This ain’t that, I’ll say it again, this ain’t that,” Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer (2nd) said. “I want to get the message across that this is not Tuskegee; this is about you and about your children and about your generation.”

Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller (6th) used her background in health care and the pharmaceutical industry to persuade constituents the vaccine is nothing to fear. Miller pointed toward strides in diversity with clinical trials as evidence the vaccine is safe.

“Where we have come from 25 years ago when I started in this industry to where we are now is leaps and bounds above where we were many years ago,” Miller said.

The Pfizer vaccine, which is currently being distributed in Chicago, was first tested on 45,302 participants in clinical trials, 10% of whom were Black.

“That is unprecedented for most clinical trials,” Miller said.

City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin and her husband, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), both urged Chicagoans to set their reluctance aside and take the vaccine so life can return to normal.

“I live for the day we can hug each other,” Conyears-Ervin said. “Who would know that right now a hug would be priceless? I live for that day.”

Ervin spoke about the family members people have lost due to COVID-19, including his own cousin.

“It is incumbent on us to do the right thing - to save our families, protect our community and take the vaccine,” Ervin said.