With the pandemic exposing racial disparities in the United States — Black people have died of Covid-19 at nearly three times the rate of white people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — health officials have been working to promote vaccinations in Black communities, and to combat doubt.
So doctors in Atlanta turned to Tyler Perry — a popular and prolific actor, director and studio head — to spread the word to Black audiences that the vaccine was harmless. He agreed to interview the experts, turning it into a TV special that aired Thursday night on BET. On the show, he peppered doctors from Grady Health System with questions about the safety of the vaccine, how it was developed, how it was tested and how it works.
At the end of the interview, with his sleeve pulled up, Perry got the jab as cameras rolled.
Perry is one of the most powerful people in the entertainment industry. He built his fortune portraying the character of Madea, a tart-tongued and irreverent matriarch, onstage and onscreen, before retiring her in 2019 to concentrate on other projects, which include running his 330-acre studios in Georgia.
Skepticism about the Covid-19 vaccine among Black people has been deeply concerning to health officials. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one in three Black people was hesitant about vaccine. A recent CNN analysis found that Black and Latino Americans were getting the vaccine at significantly lower rates than white people — rates attributed to, among other factors, lack of access to health care for many Black people, but also to an entrenched mistrust about the medical establishment.
On the BET special, Perry spoke of episodes in history that have led to a lack of faith in the medical establishment and the government, among them the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which doctors allowed syphilis to progress in Black men by withholding treatment from them, and the case of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, whose cells were used in research without her knowledge or consent.
“We as Black people have healthy hesitation when it comes to vaccinations and so on and so forth, and even disease,” he said.
Perry said he didn’t want people getting vaccinated just because he had. “What I want to do is give you the information, the facts,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there.”