The Granddaughter of Tuskegee Study Participant Urges COVID-19 Vaccination

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Currents News Staff 

Sharon Hawks says it has been hard to hear people citing the Tuskegee experiment as one reason they’re reluctant to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It has brought up bad emotions,” says Sharon, the Director of Health Outreach for Reid Temple AME Church.

That’s because her own grandfather, a man named Willie Harris, was a part of that experiment until his death in 1960.

“It’s always been a part of the family history,” Sharon said. “We didn’t talk about it much.”

From 1932 until 1972, the Federal Public Health Service used about 600 impoverished sharecroppers in rural Alabama near Tuskegee to study the natural course of syphilis.

They were promised treatment but they were only given placebos. That deceit led to a mistrust of medicine, which for some, continues to this day.

“The fact that they experimented on him for so many years without him even knowing what they were doing is painful,” Sharon said.

But Sharon, who is a nutritionist and director of health outreach for Reid Temple AME church in Glenndale, she’s helping run a new pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Sharon says she now wants to share her story so the doubt can be overcome.

“I felt it was a moral obligation to let people know and to get them comfortable with it,” she said.

With people lined up and eager to be vaccinated today, she hopes resistance is already fading.

“African Americans can be assured that this is not experimenting or someone trying to kill us off,” she said, “everyone is going after the same vaccine.”

Her grandfather, she says, was denied treatment which could have extended his life. Sharon now hopes people don’t deny themselves a vaccine, which could save theirs.