OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — North Omaha community activist Preston Love Jr. received his COVID-19 vaccine today. Love said he wants to encourage the community of North Omaha and people of color to do the same.
Love said he understands the mistrust some have in public health, but the already vulnerable community needs to take advantage of modern medicine.
In the 1930s, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study recruited Black men in Alabama to study the effects of the disease without ever providing treatment — even when treatments became available.
“In the middle of the study, there was the advent of penicillin and other drugs which showed effectiveness at actually curing the condition. They [Black participants] were going to be denied those...because the pretense of the study was that you’re going to go ahead and allow it to progress," professor of Black Studies at UNO Dr. Nikitah Imani said.
Due to the government actively preventing the study participants to receive treatment, the men went blind, insane and died. The experimentation began in the 1930's and was expected to last a few months. The experiment ended in 1972.
"That's not way back down in ancient times. It's recent," Dr. Imani said.
President Clinton condemned the study and apologized in 1997. But those deep-rooted trust issues in the government and public health, plague the black community to this day.
"This is a chance for public health officials in Nebraska to do something they haven't always done frankly — and that is to start meeting African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans on the ground, asking them about their needs, discussing their feelings and ideas. And unfortunately we either do none of that quite often or we do just enough to get by," Dr. Imani said.
Despite this dark history, Love said medicine has come a long way.
"I'm not doing this for a show,” he said. “I'm taking this for my life and the life of my family and others who may come in contact with me."
The state health department is hosting virtual town hall meetings February with communities of color to discuss vaccine questions. The dates and time of the meetings are expected to be announced soon.