Black Houston-area officials receive coronavirus vaccine publicly to dissuade fears

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis received the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 30. (Courtesy HTV)
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis received the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 30. (Courtesy HTV)

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis received the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 30. (Courtesy HTV)

Seven elected officials representing the Houston area got vaccinated publicly Dec. 30 in an attempt to dissuade fears among constituents, especially those in Black and minority communities.

Houston-area state Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Garnet Coleman, Joe Deshotel and Alma Allen; state Sen. Boris Miles and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, all of whom are Black, received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the UTHealth McGovern Medical School.

Each official both acknowledged hearing some reluctance in the community about the new vaccine as well as having some of their own.

Ellis referenced fears stemming from the Tuskegee Experiment, a U.S. government-led study from 1932 to 1972 which tracked the progression of syphilis in a group of Black men who had contracted the infection prior to the study, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Doctors were instructed not to treat the disease despite the discovery of penicillin’s effectiveness in battling it and questions surrounding the ethics of the experiment. A lack of transparency between doctors and patients led to public outcry and ultimately a lawsuit.

“The legacy of that experiment ... still lingers in communities of color and not just African American communities,” Ellis said. ‘It's important for us to come here and make a case, acknowledge our history and that sordid past and say we are better than that. We encourage everybody—Black, Hispanic, Asian and white—to get the vaccine.”

Miles, who sits on the state Legislature’s health and human services committee, said overseeing the distribution planning process helped him gain confidence in the vaccine’s safety and in public health officials' understanding of vulnerable populations.

“I was happy to see the ethical principles in their layout ... to protect and promote public health and social economics and ... their equal concern over every person to be considered and treated as having equal dignity,” Miles said.

Hospital systems began to enter Phase 1B of the state’s distribution plan Dec. 29 which goes beyond health care workers and first responders to include people over the age of 65 and those with certain underlying conditions.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is scheduled to receive the vaccination Jan. 4, he said.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.