Former President Barack Obama is urging black Americans who are skeptical of COVID vaccines to consider that the nation’s “wealthy and powerful” are taking it, so it’s a “good thing to get.”
The 44th commander-in-chief made the remarks while appearing alongside basketball stars Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley for ATTN’s “Roll Up Your Sleeves” television special aired by NBC Sunday evening, after Barkley urged African Americans to “forget what happened back in the day,” referring to the Tuskegee experiment.
“The irony is when you know about the Tuskegee experiment, what was going on there was the government withheld treatment that was available for black men for syphilis,” Obama explained. “It wasn’t that they made them sick by giving them medicine, it’s that they didn’t give them medicine they needed.”
A man receives his COVID-19 vaccine from a nurse in the gymnasium at Whitney M. Young Elementary School on April 2, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky.Jon Cherry/Getty Images
“So here’s a situation where if the medicine’s available, we need to take it. And look, if the wealthy and the powerful in our society are all lining up to get shots, that means everybody should know it’s a good thing to get,” he continued.
As the president explained, the Tuskegee experiment occurred between the 1930s and 1970s, when medical professionals intentionally withheld treatment from African Americans with syphilis to test the impacts of the infection.
A nurse prepares to administer the H1N1 vaccine to President Barack Obama at the White House on December 20, 2009, in Washington, DC.Getty Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images
The exact number of black men who died from the decades-long experiment is not known.
The impact of the experiment, though, can be seen in the vast distrust of the COVID vaccines among African Americans.
Bible-Based Fellowship Church partnered with the Pasco County Health Department and Army National Guard to assist residents 65 and older to administer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on February 13, 2021, in Tampa, Florida.Octavio Jones/Getty Images
“Part of our goal here is to make sure that everybody who’s been going through so much in COVID understands the need and the urgency of our communities getting vaccinated,” the former president said.
“Now, as the vaccine becomes more available, I want to make sure that our communities, particularly ones — African American, Latino — as well as young people understand that this will save lives and allow people to get their lives back to normal.”
Russell Wilson and Ciara host the “Roll Up Your Sleeves” special on NBC.Chris Haston/NBC
“The sooner we get more people vaccinated, the better off we’re going to be.”
Obama went on that taking vaccines “makes everybody safer.”
“It’s the same reason why, by the way, you know, we don’t have things like polio anymore,” he explained. “Measles used to kill people all the time. The reason we don’t see that is because kids get a vaccine before they even go to school.”
A pharmacy technician fills syringes of COVID-19 vaccines in the gymnasium at Whitney M. Young Elementary School on April 2, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky.Jon Cherry/Getty Images
The former president’s appearance during the vaccine special comes as the Biden administration is struggling to appeal to various groups hesitant to take the vaccine.
Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was turning to NASCAR, Discovery’s “The Deadliest Catch” and “country music TV” to convince rural white conservatives to get vaccinated — calling the effort an attempt to “meet people where they are.”
Barack Obama’s appearance during the vaccine special comes as the Biden administration is struggling to appeal to various groups hesitant to take the vaccine. NBC
Speaking to reporters at her daily briefing, Psaki discussed the effort after being asked about how the administration was handling the large swath of Republicans who do not want to be inoculated.
“We’ve run PSAs on ‘The Deadliest Catch,’ we’re engaged with NASCAR and Country Music TV,” the top White House spokeswoman said, referring to the CMT network.
“We’re looking for a range of creative ways to get directly connected to white conservative communities. We won’t always be the best messengers, but we’re still trying to meet people where they are, but also empower local organizations,” she continued.