Health News Roundup

Blaming Black deaths in policy custody on a genetic trait, and more in this week’s roundup

How a genetic trait in Black people can give the police cover 
Michael LaForgia and Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, The New York Times, May 15
The recent case of the death of Lamont Perry while in police custody underscores how willing some American pathologists have been to rule in-custody deaths of Black people accidents or natural occurrences caused by sickle cell trait, which is carried by one in 13 Black Americans and is almost always benign.

The untreated syphilis study, and one Black family’s work to rebuild trust in medicine
Ali Oshinskie, WNPR, May 16
The study commonly referred to as the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” has re-entered public conversation as an example of why there’s hesitancy in Black Americans to get the COVID vaccine. But experts say the topic of Black medical mistrust is more dynamic than a single story.

Fauci: Pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’
Associated Press, Politico, May 16
“COVID-19 has shown a bright light on our own society’s failings,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a graduation ceremony for Emory University. Fauci told the graduates that many members of minority groups work in essential jobs where they might be exposed to the coronavirus. He also said they are more likely to become infected if exposed because of medical conditions such as hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes or obesity. He went on to explain that “very few of these comorbidities have racial determinants,” and “Almost all relate to the social determinants of health dating back to disadvantageous conditions that some people of color find themselves in from birth regarding the availability of an adequate diet, access to health care and the undeniable effects of racism in our society.”

Racism derails Black men’s health, even as education levels rise
Virginia Anderson, Kaiser Health News, May 19
Generally, higher education means better-paying jobs and health insurance, healthier behaviors and longer lives. This is true across many demographic groups. And studies show life expectancy is higher for Black men with a college degree compared to those without a high school diploma. But the increase is not as big as it is for whites. This comes on top of the many health obstacles Black men already face. They are more likely to die from chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer than white men, and their life expectancy, on average, is lower. Experts point to a variety of factors that might play a role, but many said the most pervasive is racism.

Stark racial disparities persist in vaccinations, state level CDC data shows
Hannah Recht, Rachana Pradhan, and Lauren Weber, Kaiser Health News, May 20
A new analysis of state level CDC data shows that Black Americans’ COVID-19 vaccination rates are still lagging months into the nation’s campaign. Nationally, 29% of Hispanics are vaccinated, compared with 33% of whites, and 45% of Native Americans have received at least one dose. The analysis underscores how vaccine disparities have improved as availability has opened up and there has been an attempt to prioritize equitable distribution. Still, gaps persist even as minority groups have suffered much higher mortality rates from the pandemic than whites and are at risk of infection as states move to reopen and lift mask mandates.