After receiving a full scholarship to study medicine at the Latin America School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba, Dr. Arabia Mollette relocated to Cuba, where she studied and lived for seven and a half years. After she matriculated from medical school, Dr. Mollette completed her residency as an Emergency Medical Resident Physician at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. She is an Emergency Physician in NYC.
It should not come as a surprise that African Americans are skeptical about getting vaccinated, or vaccinating their children, because of the past medical experiments that were often conducted on humans during America’s shameful slave history.
Between 1845 and 1849, female slaves were unlawfully subjected to deathly experiments under gynecologist and slave owner, Dr. J. Marion Sims, who is considered the father of modern gynecology. Additional experiments that utilized people of color include the Tuskegee syphilis study, the Guatemala STD study and the Agent Orange experiment.
In just about every family, there is at least one person who possesses the “I don’t trust doctors” mindset. This ideology has been passed down from generation to generation; it was even passed down to me. As a Black Emergency Physician working in an urban Level 1 trauma center, I am constantly reminded of the ugliness of our history as it pertains to the maintenance and importance of Black health. Although the country has made tremendous progress, our beloved senior and younger generations are dying from diseases that can be prevented with proper vaccinations and treatments.
People of color have a higher chance of developing communicable diseases that can be prevented via vaccinations and other methods because we have the lowest vaccination rates. For example, pneumonia is highly preventable and getting vaccinated could reduce the risk of developing this disease, especially as an elder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 900,000 adult Americans get pneumococcal pneumonia each year. It is also estimated that 67 million adults haven’t been vaccinated against this disease. Unfortunately, 5-7% of these individuals succumb to it.
Today, we have the opportunity to receive vaccinations against diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, unlike those who preceded us. There are several countries around the world that do not have access to vaccinations. When an individual is not vaccinated and venture out in public spaces such as schools, work, or amusement parks, he/she puts other individuals health at risk, including the immunocompromised, pregnant women and the elderly.
There have been recent reports about celebrities who expressed being anti-vaccination or “vaccine risk aware.” I will never instruct a parent on how to raise his/her child. However, I will strongly advise and communicate the importance of an annual vaccination. As physicians and allied healthcare professionals, it is crucial that we remain open to hearing the concerns and questions from families regarding vaccinations for their kids and themselves. I wholeheartedly believe that the doctor’s office and/or the Emergency Department is a classroom where medical education can begin. Vaccinations have allowed our children to live disease-free for many years. It is imperative that parents with children that are immunocompromised or challenged by chronic ailments, be involved in these conversations.
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