(CBS News) – Tuskegee is the one-word answer some people give as a reason they’re avoiding COVID-19 vaccines.
A new ad campaign launched on June 30, 2021 with relatives of men who unwittingly became part of the infamous experiment wants to change minds.
Omar Neal, 63, a former mayor of the Alabama town, said he was hesitant at first about the shots. Neal is a nephew of Freddie Lee Tyson, a family man who was among several hundred Black men who decades ago became involved without their consent in the federally backed syphilis study.
Neal said he agreed to appear in the national campaign after doing research to gain confidence in the vaccines.
”I didn’t want people to use Tuskegee and what transpired there as a reason for not taking the vaccine.” Neal said.
In 1932 and over 40 years, Black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, were subjected to experimentation without their knowledge.
Most of the 600 men had syphilis — including Tyson, who got infected before birth — but they were left untreated so researchers could study the natural history of the disease.
Tyson died from unrelated causes in 1988, 16 years after the study ended. But many others died from a disease that can be cured with penicillin.
Neal and other Tyson relatives are among half a dozen Tuskegee descendants involved in the ads, which focus on vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans.
They say vaccination is needed to help communities of color and curb a disease that has disproportionately affected Black Americans.
”Don’t deny ourselves the opportunity the men were denied,” Tyson’s 76-year-old daughter, Lillie Tyson Head, said in one of the ads.