Mayor Eric Garcetti and county Supervisor Holly Mitchell Thursday joined two city councilmen who represent the South Los Angeles area to urge constituents distrustful of the COVID-19 vaccine to get inoculated.
Mitchell said that while the Black community has reason to be distrustful of health care systems and medical professionals in the U.S. - citing the 1932 Tuskegee Experiment and the use of Henrietta Lacks' cells without her consent or that of her family -- she told people it was safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I don't want people to use those past horrific experiences where we were taken advantage of and abused as a reason to not step up in this moment in history where we are experiencing unprecedented public health crisis," Mitchell said. "You know Tuskegee and Henrietta Lacks, there's a difference, those were experiments on Black people, that's not what this vaccine is," she said.
South Los Angeles is one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. John's Well Child & Family Center President John Mangia said during the news conference. While the clinic is vaccinating health care workers and preparing to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of people in South Los Angeles, officials are concerned about a recent poll that said only 14% of Black Americans and 34% of Latino Americans reported they trust the vaccine's safety, according to Mangia and a statement by the clinic.
Councilman Curren Price said it was the responsibility of community leaders to demonstrate that the vaccine is safe amid some constituents' hesitancy.
"The COVID vaccine is proven to be safe and effective and will be a significant contributor in reclaiming the sense of normalcy that we all have longed for -- to reopen our schools, to revive our economies, to save our businesses," Price said.
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said vaccine hesitancy within the community not only comes from the U.S.' history of experimentation on people of color, but the discrimination that they experience within health care systems in the U.S. today.
"Dr. Susan Moore, two weeks ago, a Black woman physician who went to the doctor and said I'm in pain. The doctor said there's nothing wrong with you and sent her home. Two weeks later, she died of COVID," Harris-Dawson said.
"All of us grew up in households with Black mothers, I don't know how many times my mother went to the hospital or went to the doctor and said I got a headache, or I got a stomachache, and they told her nothing was wrong with her. One of those times, my mother had cancer," he said.
Harris-Dawson advised the community that while those cases of discrimination happen, there are clinics, like St. John's, that are part of the South Los Angeles community and provide proper care to people of color.
"I'm happy to report we have people we can trust, and we have people we can trust that are asking us and assuring us that getting the vaccine is safe," Harris-Dawson said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke about the other vaccine problem that communities are facing: not enough vaccines.
"While we're looking at Washington, let us tell all of our leaders there, 'We need more vaccines, we need more vaccines, we need more vaccines,"' Garcetti repeated. "We have to make sure that we have this vaccine and that we take it."
"The mistrust is understandable given the history that's been talked about from Tuskegee or Henrietta Lacks' cells, but now we have to step up and lead, all of us, be the leaders to protect our families," Garcetti said.