TUSKEGEE, Ala. — By the time vaccines for the coronavirus were introduced late last year, the pandemic had taken two of Lucenia Williams Dunn’s close friends. Still, Ms. Dunn, the former mayor of Tuskegee, contemplated for months whether to be inoculated.
It was a complicated consideration, framed by the government’s botched response to the pandemic, its disproportionate toll on Black communities and an infamous 40-year government experiment for which her hometown is often associated.
“I thought about the vaccine most every day,” said Ms. Dunn, 78, who finally walked into a pharmacy this summer and rolled up her sleeve for a shot, convinced after weighing with her family and doctor the possible consequences of remaining unvaccinated.
“What people need to understand is some of the hesitancy is rooted in a horrible history, and for some, it’s truly a process of asking the right questions to get to a place of getting the vaccine.”
In the first months after the vaccine rollout, Black Americans were far less likely than white Americans to be vaccinated. In addition to the difficulty of obtaining shots in their communities, their hesitancy was fueled by a powerful combination of general mistrust of the government and medical institutions, and misinformation over the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.