Vaccines and Autism: Conflicting Accounts Based on Race

These articles relate to a study run by the Center for Disease control that caused a lot of controversy around the issue of certain vaccines causing an increased risk for developing autism, specifically within African American males.

The first article details how different African American male babies were given an experimental vaccine supposed to help prevent MMR. However, the article goes on to mention is that the CDC found a link between this disease, the time it was administered in babies and how it caused these children to be at a higher risk for autism.  According to the article, nothing was done with this information and this new information was not given to the parents who were signing up for this study.  Because of this, the article argues that this was not informed consent and that the doctors and scientists at the CDC were not providing the proper informed consent to these parents.

The second article completely disagrees with the first article, saying instead that the correlations found between African American male babies, increased risk for autism and this vaccine just that, correlations.  This article continues on to say that these correlations were blown out of proportion and often the data was misunderstood.  There is the underlying message in this article that not only are there not risks with this vaccine, but also that by creating rumors of its link to autism,  this prevents parents from vaccinating their children.  This causes the vaccines in the general public to not work.

I think that this story clearly illustrates the concept we talked about in class about how many different doctors believed that there were differences in the races, and because of this, had different reactions to the same medication.  This type of thinking is exceedingly dangerous, especially because it was proved by the human genome project that there is no such think as different human races.  And as outlined in the second article, it is extremely dangerous for children to not have their vaccinations, as it opens themselves and other children to the risk of contracting a very dangerous disease.  This is also another example of singling out an already marginalized group and turning them more against the healthcare community, when these vaccines could help save their child’s life.

The Unwritten Rules, Episode 12 of Season 2: Governing Bodies of Living Laboratories

I have dedicate this post to one of my favorite episodes of the Youtube series, the Unwritten Rules. This Youtube series follows Racey, a recent Brown University graduate, through her time at a predominantly white firm. During the second semester of the series, she is no longer the only black worker on her floor. Additionally, there is a new black CEO, Kaneesha, that replaces a racist white male that decided to unexpectedly quit the firm.

This episode (Season 2, Episode 12) follows the coworkers at Racey’s workplace through a Safety Workshop day. The series is known for nonchalantly depicting moments that are racist towards brown and black individuals or what people would call “racially tense,” in that there are unresolved issues and indirect references to race. During this episode Racey’s boss (whose name I have forgotten) has an issue with the Safety class and, more specifically, with the new CEO. We see throughout the safety class that the instructor presents scenarios using black coworkers acting out stereotypes of black Americans.

The episode is structured so that we see snippets of the class and snippets of commentary from Racey. From her commentaries, Racey is able to communicate to us what her sentiments throughout the class are even though the timeline of the episode is non-linear and we do not see many shots with her in the class. This post connects less to explicit examples of racial living laboratories in medicine. This episode speaks to several comments throughout class that we have posed considering representation of marginalized individuals in institutions that are making important decisions concerning our bodies, health, legal systems, etc. In a way, these institutions house a living laboratories themselves. Following Racey through The Unwritten Rules we see that she does not have much guidance of how to navigate race politics at her workplace until Kaneesha starts her position as CEO. This is also a message communicated through the title of the show and the end of each episode that displays a “rule” for black co-workers in predominantly white work spaces.

How do we go about changing the living laboratories we have discussed when their governing bodies are living laboratories themselves.

Midtown Community Court: Center for Court Innovation

This website gives some background on the history of Midtown Community Court located in Manhattan. It is a “problem solving” court that provides social services to those who walk through its doors that is actually aimed at reducing incarceration rates in the city of New York. Instead of immediately sentencing one to jail, they look to provide the person with services that work to address the issue they were arrested for in the first place. For example, instead of sentencing someone to jail for a drug charge, the judge will mandate them to a specific number of days in rehab. Midtown Community Court is one of the first courts of its kind and one that has a special place in my heart. Over the summer, I interned for one of their programs called UPNEXT–a fatherhood and job readiness program that helps unemployed, non custodial fathers gain job readiness skills all while reconnecting with their children. It is a fabulous program and one that I believe actually helps to prevent recidivism.

I mainly decided to write about this court because it reminded me of the activity we did at the beginning of the semester where we wrote up, as a class, what we would like a laboratory to look like. We have seen, especially in our last unit, how the criminal justice system can function as a living laboratory. For me, Midtown Community Court is a perfect example of what I want our criminal justice system to look like. Here we have a court that instead of trying to get people into jail, is actively working to provide those arrested with social services that can help them get back on their feet. They give the people that walk through their doors access to much needed drug rehabilitation programs, job readiness workshops, and counseling services that have truly made a difference in these people’s lives. Midtown Community Court gives me a glimmer of hope that one day all of our courts will follow the same formula. 

Spirit Medicine Episode One on Ancestry

Spirit Medicine is a podcast series that focuses on how people of color (queer and trans people of color especially) can connect to healing practices. It is a project under Black Girl Dangerous (BGD) and has two episodes released to date. After listening to the first episode of their podcast on ancestry, I decided to write a blog post about this topic since it connects so strongly to Remedios and other conversations we have had in class.

The podcast starts off with introductions to both speakers, CarmenLeah Asencio and ChE. It then continues to explain how western medical practice is based on patholigizing, or the practice of treating ill people as if there is something wrong with them. A similar viewpoint was concerning the pain of oppressed people was communicates. The podcast explained that the suffering of oppressed people is often pathologized instead of being taken seriously. In other words, as Professor K. explained in class, instead of asking the question of “what happened to you” people ask the question “what is wrong with you.” This means that the systemic issues causing pain, suffering, and illness are not critically examined and the individuals is examined as having something wrong with them instead.

One of the goals of this episode of Spirit Medicine was to present liberatory practices outside of this western framework through a connection to ancestry. A couple of the questions asked throughout the podcast were: What ancestors do you find strength in? Why is connecting to ancestors is an act of healing for people of color and for queer and trans people of color? How have you unpacked your ancestry?

Overall, the first episode of this podcast echoed our sentiments that connecting to ancestors is a radical act that goes against the systemic violence that acts to decentralize communities of color. Connecting to ancestry is a healing practice that is available through your own materials and does not require access dependent on outside forces. My favorite practice mentioned was “bibliotherapy,” or the practice of finding out about your ancestry by reading about it or being highly inquisitve.

Here is a link to the second episode, Cultural Appropriation and Healing Practices:

NYC Health Department Launches Flu Shot Campaign

I was flipping through tv channels during Thanksgiving break when I stopped on this news conference. The conference was held by the New York City Health Department in a church in Bedford-Stuyvesant–a predominantly Black neighborhood in Brooklyn. The press conference was meant to kickstart the Department’s new flu shot campaign that is aimed at getting senior citizens–specifically Black senior citizens–to go out and get their flu shot. As the description below the video notes, the majority of flu related deaths occur in the senior population and vaccine rates in Black and Latinx communities tend to be very low. The Health Department has initiated a photo campaign encouraging senior citizens to get vaccinated.

I found this short video clip incredibly relevant to our class mainly because of a comment that the Health Commissioner made during the press conference. Dr. Mary Bassett stated in the video that the African American community has “a long legacy of mistrust” towards the health care system which can explain why some of them may have “misguided” opinions about the flu shot. As we have read in this class, we know exactly where this warranted mistrust of the health department comes from. Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid, along with the many other works we have read this semester, clearly highlight the history of medical experimentation on African Americans. The video on NY1 reminded me of some lingering questions I have had ever since reading Medical Apartheid. While the distrust in the medical system is extremely warranted, it is times like these that make me wonder what can be done to re-instill trust in the system, especially when it means getting people to get crucial services performed. When it comes to getting certain procedures done like a flu shot or a mammogram, we know how life saving these services can be so it’s important that we encourage members of the most vulnerable communities to get them done. While I think bringing awareness to the issue of medical abuse is important, it leaves me wondering what the next step is. What will it take to foster a sense of trust in the medical system? Does it mean dismantling a system we know was built on scientific racism and if so, what would a new system look like?

Screenshots of Facebook Thread: Scientific Studies Looking for a Biological Cause of Transness

The following images are screenshots of a Facebook thread on the page Assigned Male Comics. The page posted an image that spoke out against the medicalization of transgender identities through research projects that look for a “biological cause” of ‘x’ identity. The main blogger pointed out that said experiments are never simply about “curiosity” but are, instead, intertwined in systemic issues of power and biopower (first and second image). This is an interesting point of view that I have read repeatedly throughout my Facebook newsfeed, especially in relation to “prescreen” services offered to parents allowing them to terminate pregnancies based on genes thought to be markers for gay identity. However, I have also seen through different social media sites that I follow and during my research for my final paper that health care coverage for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals tends to be a very complicated process. I was interested to see if scientific research looking for the “cause for transness” might have a similar backdrop.

As expected, there were various commenters who were interested in such studies because they wanted to “cure” children of transness before it it was “expressed” (third image). The fourth image points out a tension within the main poster’s argument throughout the comments section that biological studies on transness should not be supported. This individual informs the reader that scientific research related to trans issues sometimes improves knowledge for practitioners to provide better care related to hormones. The fifth image was one of the only comments I found talking about how the medicalization of transness in the United States tends to erase non-Eurocentric systems of gender.

There is a lot going on with these screenshots and Facebook page. One of my main points for dedicating a blog post to this conversation is because (1) conflicting opinions of transgender and gender non-conforming health care continues to pop up in my research and (2) social media can be a powerful tool to disseminate and produce dialogue (as we have discussed in class several times).

Sidenote: Something that I would like to point out but didn’t know how to fit into the main blog post is that this thread leaves out individuals that either identify as agender or do not ascribe to systems of gender.



Give Ebola Drug to Africans

Even though the article and the video (please note who is featured in it…. yes, Harriet Washington) are centered about the already over Ebola epidemic in West Africa, I think that they pertain to a very current issue in pharmacological experimentation: who gets to take an experimental drug first (I have been sincerely dying to discuss that, especially that specific case which I have monitored, because, you know, Ebola is my thing), so, in my defense, I purposefully searched for an article that addresses the issue, but this entry was what came first, so finding Washington in it was a chance event.

I think that both Washington and the author of the article make a great point in discussing how there is racial bias even in the distribution in novel drugs targeting African diseases. ZMapp, the antibody cocktail in question, was developed conjointly by the US and Canada. During the 2014 Ebola Epidemic, the drug was not yet tested in humans, and, from my recall, only 7 doses were available and were given to patients after they consented. The problem put forward in the article and the video is, thus, why 2 of these doses of a potentially life-saving drug were administered to American volunteers, and what contributed to this selection?

I think that the racial bias in medical care, part of which is drug administration, is what is extremely relevant to the major topic of our class, and, in this case, I identify the living laboratory as African patients. Given the distribution of diseased people (of a total of 15,261 laboratory-confirmed cases, a very small number were foreign volunteers*), ethnicity bias is evident.

I praise the article in that it identified the reason for this bias: the lack of information network in West Africa, so that Africans did not know of the existence of the drug. But this raises a crucial question: how do we erase the gap in accessibility and why do we give preferential access when it is known that knowledge is biased? Why is there such a propensity to perpetuate medical inequality? The problem here is that there is nothing wrong in allowing whomever person the opportunity to be cured, but that the injustice results from the selection as a product of bias. I believe that we are still very far from claiming that science is universal and impersonal, and that it cherishes justice.

Hence, I wonder, what are your thoughts on the role of the ”nationality” of the participating laboratories in determining how they translate their findings (one of the laboratories developing ZMapp was the U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases)?


The Rapid Gentrification of Harlem

The article discusses the rapid gentrification that Harlem has been undergoing in the past couple of years. A historically Black neighborhood in New York City, Harlem has been a safe refuge for African Americans since the early 1900s. But while Harlem traditionally has been written about for its vibrant culture, it has largely been in the news lately because of the influx of, mainly, young Whites into the area.

With this new population that has infiltrated the area, the author notes, has come a complete transformation of a once beloved and predominantly Black neighborhood. Gone are the soul food shops that lined up the corners of Malcolm X Boulevard and in are the overpriced French restaurants and organic food shops that most of the original residents simply can not afford. Rents have also skyrocketed as landlords have taken advantage of the new tenants moving in, which has resulted in a displacement of people whose families have literally lived there for decades. Some of the Harlem tenants interviewed for this article also noted how all of a sudden improvements are slowly being made to the schools in the area, how the garbage is being picked up more regularly, and how the police have changed the way their policing strategies. The influx of White folk into the area has brought some improvements with it, but at the expense of kicking out the original tenants and stripping Harlem of its historic culture.

I mainly decided to write about this article because it reminded me of the conversations that we had in class during Unit 3 when we discussed sterilization and how the supposedly poor health of Puerto Rican women was used as a justification for US colonialism. I think we can make similar comparisons between gentrification and colonialism, especially since one of the main arguments used to justify gentrification is that it brings needed improvements to the neighborhood it occurs in. The writer of this article actually compares one of the gentrifiers to Christopher Columbus, describing the man as someone who thinks he discovered a new land. There are also clear similarities between gentrification and colonialism, most importantly how they both result in the displacement of the people who originally lived there. This article makes me wonder, since we know how devastating the outcomes of colonialism are, would it inspire others to act more quickly in addressing gentrification if we began to think of gentrification as a new form of colonialism and/or as an extension of it? 

A Deadly Lack of Care for Some of America’s Sickest: Ex-Inmates

This article starts off by retelling the story of ex-inmate Ernest who found himself being sentenced to prison for killing his 2 year old daughter due to a psychotic break down. The primary concern now is what will happen to him having been released very recently, and being uninsured. The state failed to enroll him in medicaid, despite the fact that under the Affordable Care Act Indiana had expanded the health insurance program to most ex-convicts. However, Ernest represents the former inmate population that doesn’t get to have insurance based on technicalities and state level politics.

Ernest has a serious mental disorder that caused him to commit his first crime, in the first place. Upon his release he was supposed to be guaranteed, however 31 states that have enacted medicaid do not have adequate institutions in place to provide services for ex-convicts. As many as 16 states have no procedure in place at all to provide medicaid for ex-convicts trying to re-enter communities. Many of these former prisoners a ill, and have chronic diseases.

This has everything to do with class because we can so clearly see how prison traps the bodies of these people. Ernest was only in jail in the first place because he had  a breakdown and killed his daughter. Had Ernest been given the proper treatment from the beginning he may never have killed his daughter. This puts people like Ernest in a position where they are in and out of jails because they can get treatment there, and because of the possibility that they might have another breakdown  which causes them to commit a crime.  This government inaction is what allows the prison industrial complex to survive.

Everyone is a Test Subject: Human Experimentation in America

This article details the various atrocities that were committed by American doctors against many different people, including the mentally ill, those with a debilitating illness and those in prison.  These groups of people were also often predominantly people of color, either that lived in the United States or in other countries.  The article begin by detailing various experiments done on humans in the United States, starting back 80 years.  Most involved not getting consent from their test subjects, performing harmful “treatments” and even refusing to treat a disease in certain test subjects in order to see the disease take its full course.  These different experiments were never publicized in the media, but whenever news of a study did break, the doctors covered it up by explaining how it created medical advances.  In fact, the doctors that completed this research were unashamed of their work, publishing their findings in journal articles.

This article perfectly incapacitates the injustices faced by marginalized people in the United States, and how their doctors, people that had taken an oath to do no harm, had utterly and completely betrayed them.  The doctors completing these experiments only saw these people as test subjects that would improve medicine for wealthy Americans.  This is similar to many of the common themes of the class, where individuals in a position of power take advantage of people in order to create advances in the science that these marginalized people will never get to see.

I also think that these examples also show how media can color people’s perceptions of these barbaric acts.  The media never covered any of these experiments and when they did, they only looked at it from the doctors point of view.  All other opinions and thoughts were excluded from the narrative.  This prevented the general public from seeing all the horrors that were being committed in the name of science.  This also forced marginalized people to seek other forms of medicine, as it was clear the traditional, Western medicine and its practitioners could not be trusted.