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Pew polling indicates that about 40% of African Americans are vaccine-hesitant or resistant. These individuals cite various reasons for their hesitancy, among which are discomfort regarding how quickly the vaccines were developed and how limited the testing of the vaccines was before they were authorized, on an emergency basis, for use. Many are concerned about possible side effects. Reasonable concerns. The FDA has yet to release its risk-benefit analysis of the Pfizer vaccine despite full approval of the vaccine. Such a circumstance is contrary to all prior FDA practice, adding to concern about the vaccines.
Joe Biden’s imposition of mandates, and anger at those unvaccinated, jogged my memory regarding events that occurred around the time I started Medical School almost 50 years ago. I started Medical School at UCLA in 1973. At that time genetic screening for various genetic disorders was a hot topic. In Southern California with, at the time, the largest Jewish population (Ashkenazi Jews are particularly afflicted with Tay Sachs) on the planet outside of Tel Aviv, prenatal screening for Tay Sachs was de rigeur. If a child was born with Tay Sachs, (an untreatable, incurable recessive genetic disorder that resulted in the birth of a perfectly healthy baby that, nevertheless underwent deterioration and decline over months to a couple of years and died), a medical malpractice suit for “wrongful life” was sure to follow.
Screening for Trisomy 21 was routine. Abortion of Trisomy 21 fetuses was routine.
There was a major push to screen for Sickle Cell trait. The African American community in Southern California at that time, in contrast to the Jewish community in Southern California, was strongly resistant to genetic screening. A year before I started medical school, in 1972, an expose’ of the Tuskegee Study of syphilis in poor Black farmers in Alabama had hit the proverbial fan. Appropriate outrage ensued. That had a marked effect on the willingness of African Americans to undergo genetic screening.
Five years before I started medical school at UCLA, the UCLA Law Review had published an issue on biomedical issues in law, with a preface by Linus Pauling, the discoverer of the molecular defect causing Sickle Cell disease. In that preface, Pauling had called for what became called his “yellow star” program (after the yellow star armbands that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany a generation or more earlier). Pauling advocated placing a visible permeant brand on anyone with a single gene for Sickle Cell disease (that is, anyone who had Sickle trait, a benign entity) so that they would not marry someone else with Sickle Trait and run a 25% risk of having a child with Sickle Cell disease. He also strongly encouraged aborting any baby found to have Sickle Cell disease on prenatal screening, to limit the pain and suffering of such individuals. He vilified then Governor Reagan for failure to allow abortions for such pregnancies. Unfortunately, at about the same time, Nixon made a major effort to push research and treatment of Sickle Cell disease, but in announcing that effort, he identified Sickle Cell disease as a disease exclusively of African Americans, which is not true. It does not just occur in African Americans. It can affect Greeks, Cypriots, Asians, Spanish, Portuguese. Thus, African Americans were essentially labeled as the sole carriers of a feared genetic disorder, while the most prominent of scientists called for aborting affected Black babies and screening the entire African American community to enable that. It would be hard to think of a more effective way of alienating Blacks from the medical and scientific establishments. Much of that alienation persists, almost like memory T cell immunity.
Cal Tech, in Pasadena, where Pauling worked, was a hotbed of Eugenics enthusiasm. The Board of Cal Tech had established the Human Betterment Foundation in 1929 under the influence of E.S. Gosney and Paul Popenoe. Pretty much the entire Board, which included David Starr Jordan, backed that Foundation. As did most of the faculty, which included not only Pauling, but Robert Milliken and Thomas Hunt Morgan (who was somewhat more passive on Eugenics than his fellow colleagues). Dr. James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA and the genetic code, was trained by Linus Pauling at Cal Tech, and was sent by Pauling to England to work with Francis Crick on the very promising research into nucleic acids. Later in his life, Watson was named head of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which had been the epicenter of Eugenics in the first half of the 20th Century (The Eugenics Records office, under the direction of Harry Laughlin, was housed at that laboratory–funded by the Harriman fortune and the Carnegie Foundation–and was eventually closed at the end of 1939 by Vanevar Bush, who ran the Carnegie Foundation when the nonsense that was Eugenics began to be recognized for the perverse pseudoscience that it was; Charles Davenport, arguably the most influential biologist of his time and an avid Eugenicist, headed the Laboratory). Watson eventually had to resign that post when his intensely bigoted comments, particularly demeaning to Blacks, became too much for his colleagues to stomach. Into the 21st Century, he was still under the influence of Luis Aggasiz’ vile “scientific racism” that underpinned so many attitudes among prominent scientists in the 20th Century
Cal Tech became the institution that accounted for the most forced sterilizations during the Eugenics era. The research there was funded primarily by the Rockefeller Foundation. Cal Tech was the institution at which the most forced sterilizations of the “unfit” were performed in America, somewhere around 16,000. The records of those patients are still under lock and key in the Cal Tech archives, off-limits to everyone.
Needless to say, there was a considerable lack of trust among African Americans regarding the Medical and Scientific establishments, in Southern California. One could hardly blame the African American community for its hesitancy to participate in genetic screening for Sickle Cell trait. While life span was short, and life hazardous and painful for Sickle Cell disease patients in the 1970s, marked progress in managing the disease has been achieved. The use of penicillin prophylactically during the first three years of life, to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia, to which patients with Sickle Cell disease are particularly susceptible, with high infant and childhood mortality from this one bacteria, markedly reduced infant mortality, which overall greatly increased the average longevity of patients with Sickle Cell disease. Another great advance was the discovery that hydroxyurea reduced the sickling episodes that are so painful, debilitating, and damaging, by 50%. The expected longevity of a patient with Sickle Cell disease has risen from about 25 years in the 1960s to now over 60 years. Sickle Cell disease has become a more or less manageable chronic disease. We are into the era now of monoclonal antibody treatment that can further reduce the impact of sickling events; bone marrow transplants that can potentially cure the disease, and potential gene therapy for cure. The Sickle Cell disease baby that Pauling wanted to abort in 1970 might have survived to see his or her disease become a manageable chronic disease with far less suffering and much higher quality of life and longevity. Scientists like Linus Pauling actually had little confidence in Science.
Then of course, Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the year that I started medical school. Now there was no longer a legal barrier to the genetic screening and abortion of babies affected with severe genetic traits. Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg thought that Medicaid should cover abortions to allow preventing the births of babies to poor parents, regardless of genetic screening or disease status, rather, aborting such infants of poor parents was a means to reducing the numbers of poor, among which, disproportionately were African Americans. Eugenics based on income. Which was one of the same arguments made for the Eugenics of forced sterilization earlier in the Century. Of course, there was the tension for abortion advocates (Democrats) between limiting the Black population, and getting the Black vote. A politician wouldn’t want to abort too many of his constituents, one would think.
In fact, Joe Biden seems to think that he politically owns the Black population, that to not support him politically is tantamount to not being Black. Joe Biden’s campaign wasn’t so much about the “soul of America” as it was about owning the souls of Americans, particularly Black Americans, in the sense of 16 tons(the Merle Travis sense). Joe Biden seems to think Blacks owe him politically. Why? Those Souls of Black Folks that W.E.B. Dubois labored hard to convince White Folk actually existed, are now fair game for ownership by Joe Biden, he seems to think. How could forcing a vaccine on them that might, as Nicki Minaj has alleged, cause orchitis, with impotence and sterility, not reduce confidence in his diktats? There is evidence that COVID itself can cause testicular damage. But that information is not likely to get the kind of attention that Nicki Minaj’s tweets have received. And the risks of the vaccine seem to be under wraps at the FDA. There is very little information on the effects of the COVID vaccine on testicular function. One study from Urologists at the University of Miami showed no testicular effects of the vaccine in 45 men studied (too small a sample to have any import). Whom to believe? Biden or Nicki Minaj?Published in