Former President Barack Obama announced Thursday alongside former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton that he would take the COVID-19 vaccine on television in order to show that it’s safe amid public skepticism.
“People like Anthony Fauci, who I know, and I’ve worked with, I trust completely,” Obama told SirisuXM Host Joe Madison this week. “So, if Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe, and can vaccinate, you know, immunize you from getting Covid, absolutely, I’m going to take it.”
On social media, Twitter users resurrected a debunked meme to criticize the 44th president’s pledge to take the vaccine on-camera to demonstrate its safety, citing concerns about his handling of the Flint water crisis in the aftermath of the Michigan city’s water becoming contaminated with lead because of a switch in the supply source.
In 2016, then-President Obama drank a glass of filtered water in Flint while on camera at a town hall meeting to demonstrate that filtered water is safe to drink for people over the age of 6.
“While you are waiting to get your pipes replaced, you need to have a filter installed, and use that filter. And if you do use that filter, then the water is safe to consume for children over the age of 6 and who are not pregnant,” he told the audience. “So although I understand the fear and concern that people have, and it is entirely legitimate, what the science tells us at this stage is you should not drink any of the water that is not filtered. But if you get the filter and use it properly, that water can be consumed. That’s point number one.”
Despite his unambiguous language that day, some have interpreted Obama’s remarks to mean he was mocking the water crisis, or that he drank the water to show that the situation was completely resolved. One Twitter user said that Obama’s pledge did not make him feel more comfortable about taking the vaccine.
“This all just seems performative and condescending,” he wrote.
Obama, who is 59 and has no known health conditions, said he will take the vaccine when it becomes available for those at a lesser risk.
The backlash comes as the nation adds more than 200,000 coronavirus cases per day and amid widespread skepticism about a vaccine that will likely be available to those facing the highest risk sometime before the end of the year.
A Gallup poll released in mid-November found that 42 percent of Americans would not take the vaccine if it were available now and at no cost.
In the Black community, distrust of the vaccine is even higher. Recently, an NAACP and COVID Collaborative study found that just 14 percent of Black Americans have faith in vaccine safety. About 28 percent of Black Americans said they will get the vaccine when it is available, 11 Alive poll showed.
“I gotta keep it 100, I’m not going to be someone who takes it right off the rip,” one Boston man told NBC10.
Distrust of the medical establishment in the Black community stems from a history of trauma, claimed Frita Fisher, an Emory University physician.
“The 1970’s is when the Tuskegee experiment was ended and that’s only because there was a whistleblower,” she said to Atlanta station WXIA. “So, how do you feel about decades of Black men being mistreated after trusting the medical community?”
It was not clear whether Fisher was suggesting that African-Americans in 2020 are making health care decisions on the basis of their knowledge of an infamous case of medical experimentation on African-American in Alabama that began in the 1930s and ended four decades later.
In 1932, the federal Public Health Service began a study on 600 Black men in Tuskegee Alabama, without their consent. Most of the men in the study had syphilis and went untreated for the disease for the duration of the study, with some even dying of the contagion’s effects before the experiment ended after it was brought to light in 1972.
With the novel coronavirus, both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine candidates have demonstrated around 95 percent effectiveness, while AstraZeneca’s candidate is about 90 percent effective.
President-elect Joe Biden announced that he would also take the COVID-19 vaccine on TV, but said he would not mandate the vaccine for all Americans.
“When Dr. Fauci says we have a vaccine that is safe, that’s the moment in which I will stand before the public,” he told CNN on Thursday.