Jennifer Simmons receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during "Senior Weekend" at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va., February 2, 2021. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

I understand the wariness so many people harbor toward the new vaccines to fight the coronavirus. Some segments of the population, especially Black Americans, can point to a litany of egregious medical incidents over the decades, including sinister neglect, mistreatment and lack of consent for specific medical procedures.

There could be questions about the speed with which manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson developed their vaccines. Was the testing rigorous enough? Does our desire to return to pre-pandemic conditions outweigh scrutiny and common sense? 

Despite that, I wish we’d all take the shots. They’ll protect us and can help develop herd immunity. The vaccines are necessary to quash COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. We’ve lived in fear, isolation and economic hardship since this scourge struck the United States a year ago.

The prescribed cure is infinitely better than the known disease.

That’s why it was surprising to read that even health care workers in the commonwealth had been hesitant to inoculate. The Virginian-Pilot recently reported as many as half the state’s hospital workers didn’t want doses when they first became available, citing Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccine coordinator.

“What we’ve also heard is that after the first round,” Avula noted, “many of those health care workers who were waiting and see, have watched their colleagues get vaccinated, have watched their colleagues not have any side effects, and they’ve said, ‘Now we’re ready.’”

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that nearly 52 million people in the United States have received one or both doses of the vaccine, including more than 26 million people who have been fully vaccinated. (Fifty-two million is about 15.6 percent of the nation’s estimated 333 million people.) 

It’s worth noting that residents in many states have had trouble signing up or getting the shots. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a follow-up shot; the J&J vaccine is only one dose.

It doesn’t help, of course, that people who should know better are spreading falsehoods or rejecting the vaccines. 

The Associated Press reported some GOP state lawmakers around the country have lied about the vaccines or invited coronavirus skeptics to testify at legislative hearings. 

The article noted, for instance, that Virginia Del. Dave LaRock, R-Frederick County, warned a state House committee in January that COVID-19 vaccines couldn’t be trusted. He said they were especially risky for several communities, including the elderly and people of color. Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, called LaRock’s claims “simply dangerous.”

She’s right. It makes more sense to take the shots than risk catching COVID-19. Hundreds of thousands have died from it, and many who have survived have long-term health complications.

Some communities have faced mini-crises when municipal workers have declined the vaccines. The Colorado Sun reported that most of the employees in Ouray County’s police department, with just a handful of officers, hadn’t gotten the shots. After the police chief there contracted the coronavirus recently, the remaining officers had to quarantine — leaving the agency temporarily without any full-time officers to go on patrol. 

Skepticism is warranted — sometimes. Blacks Americans can cite several reasons to take healthcare pronouncements in this country with a jaundiced eye. 

First and foremost is the heinous Tuskegee Experiment, in which hundreds of Black men with syphilis didn’t get the treatment needed to cure their illness, even after penicillin became “the drug of choice for syphilis in 1947.” The study began in 1932 and didn’t end until 1972, after news stories caused an uproar. 

Second is the tragic story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman born in 1920 in Roanoke. The wife and mother of five had cervical cancer and was examined at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 1951, a doctor there snipped cells from Lacks’ tumor without informing her, shortly before she died the same year. Those HeLa cells produced an “immortal” cell line that contributed to treatments for polio, in vitro fertilization and other medical advances. 

Henrietta Lacks, as depicted in a painting by Kadir Nelson that is in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History. (Roger Chesley/ Virginia Mercury)

Medical researchers earned millions of dollars from the discovery; Lacks’ family did not.

There’s also the issue of doctors treating pain in people of color less aggressively than in Whites. And we know about Susan Moore, a doctor who said she got substandard care for coronavirus despite her status as a physician. She posted a video of her struggle before she died from COVID-19, and it “has become a rallying cry to confront bias in the medical system,” a news report said. 

Yet given the devastation COVID-19 has caused, we should take vaccinations. It’s personal for me because I have an adult child with a chronic illness who hasn’t been able to secure the injections. 

I’m less concerned I’ll be harmed by the vaccines because of my race. Mass vaccination sites take people as they come, no matter their color. I also know that COVID-19 has exacted a huge toll on racial minorities, disproportionately so compared to Whites. 

Get the vaccine to help yourself. Get it to help everyone else, too.

More than 514,000 Americans never had the chance.