For Dusty Baker, representation matters when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine. And he says having Black doctors on the FDA panel that authorized emergency use of the vaccine rolled out to the public Monday makes a significant difference.
Baker, the 71-year-old manager of the Houston Astros, said Monday that he hopes the vaccine developed by Pfizer works, particularly given the disproportionate toll the coronavirus has taken on the Black community.
The next and hopefully final phase of fighting the pandemic — the rollout and administering of therapeutics like vaccines — will require reestablishing trust with communities that may cast a wary eye toward goverment-developed remedies.
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Baker, one of two Black managers in the major leagues, on Monday cited one tragic episode that jeopardized that trust — the "Tuskegee experiment" that involved 600 Black men in Alabama. Two-thirds were afflicted with syphillis and in 1932 were given what government doctors said was medicine to fight "bad blood."
All the participants were instead administered placebos, and even after penicillin was identified as a remedy for syphillis in 1947, the experiment continued.
Ultimately, 28 participants died from syphilis and 100 more from related complications by the time the experiment was publicized in 1972.
Now, in the face of a global pandemic, health experts have stressed the importance of assuring Black Americans that vaccines will be safe.
So Baker was pleased to turn on CNN last week and see James Hildreth, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College and a member of the FDA panel, explain why he was among those that voted 17-4 in favor of emergency authorization of the virus.
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker was perhaps the most vigilant figure in Major League Baseball about wearing masks this past season. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)
"Here was an African American doctor who was in charge of the vaccine," Baker said on a video call with reporters Monday, "and I felt more comfortable that he and other African Americans were on the boards to come up with the vaccine. And he guaranteed that it wouldn’t be another Tuskegee kind of experiment. And he urged Black Americans to use the vaccine.
"Because we are most susceptible to not only catching it, but dying from it."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blacks are nearly three times likelier than Whites to die from COVID-19, which has now killed more than 300,000 Americans.
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Baker's age, ethnicity and medical history — he survived prostate cancer and a stroke — put him in a higher-risk category, and he was perhaps the most vigilant of mask-wearing managers as Major League Baseball re-started after a four-month coronavirus-related pause.
He says he has been staying "away but not alone," this winter in his California home, says his daughter, a new mother, is "very, very conscious of COVID," and is unsure when he'll fall in line to receive the vaccine.
"To tell you the truth, they say the elderly — and I’m borderline — the unhealthy, the frontline doctors, nurses and emergency people, they’re first," he says. "I don’t even know where baseball is on the list of getting it. We’ll just have to see after the first of the year."
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