The coronavirus pandemic has had devastating health consequences in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 151,000 Americans and causing millions of others to become ill.
Long-standing systemic inequities have put Black, Indigenous, Latino and other nonwhite communities at an increased risk of becoming sick and dying from COVID-19.
Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.5 times the rate of white Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), on Tuesday laid out some of the reasons why the Black community has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, citing economic and health disparities, and how vulnerable communities can get better access to health care.
“It’s what I call a double whammy against the minority, but particularly the African American and Latinx community,” Fauci said during an interview with BET’s Marc Lamont Hill.
“The African American community is more likely to be in a job that does not allow them to stay at home and do teleworking most of the time, they’re in essential jobs,” he said. “You may be in a financial or economic or employment situation where you don’t have as much control or physical separation, which is one of the ways that you prevent infection.”
The infectious disease expert went on to explain that Black Americans have disproportionately greater incidents of underlying conditions that allow people to experience more severe outcomes when they’re infected with the coronavirus, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity and chronic kidney disease. The reason for this he says is not genetic, but due to years of lacking access to the right food and proper health care.
Fauci said clinics and hospitals need to be more aware of the fact that African Americans are more likely to have a serious outcome if they become infected with the coronavirus, saying “when you know you have someone at a greater risk, you make certain medical decisions. You may get them in the hospital earlier.”
“The long-term one is something that you’re not going to cure overnight, and that is the economic and other conditions that African Americans find themselves in that they’re not in a situation where they get a greater access to health care from more of an economic standpoint,” he said.
Hill during the interview cited Black communities’ skepticism of the American medical establishment, referencing the Tuskegee experiment — an experiment conducted in the 1930s where black men with syphilis were not informed of their diagnosis and were left untreated so doctors could study what the disease does to the human body — and the inability for Black Americans to access pain medications in hospitals and emergency rooms due to sickle cell disease. He asked Fauci how he takes that into consideration when it comes to vaccine trials.
Fauci explained the National Institute of Health (NIH) is using a model first created at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic where community engagement and outreach helped bolster relationships between the medical establishment and vulnerable populations.
“When I started the HIV program at the [National Institutes of Health], we developed relationships with community reps who were trusted by the African American community because they were reflecting the African American community…You want to go into the African American community with people who look and think and act like the people you’re trying to convince,” Fauci said.
“You get the community people on the ground to go in and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you, I’ve scoped this out. This is something for your own benefit,’ ” he added.
When it comes to a coronavirus vaccine, Fauci said it’s imperative that Black people are part of the clinical trials to know if it is safe and effective for those communities.
As phase three trials have begun for a potential coronavirus vaccine, Fauci said we should know by the end of this year whether it is safe or effective, and he is cautiously optimistic that there will be a vaccine by the beginning of next year.