With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic underscoring racial and healthcare disparities in the United States, filmmaker Spike Lee is playing a role in promoting public immunization and overcoming doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine.
With cameras filming him as part of a new documentary, Lee pulled up his sleeve and received his first dose of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine at NYU Langone on February 5. As a professor in the NYU Tisch Graduate Film program, a post he has held for 20 years, Lee became eligible for vaccination according to New York State guidelines on January 11.
“I’m hoping that if my brothers and sisters see me getting the vaccine, that perhaps they’ll do some research and think about getting this vaccine because this is not a hoax,” Lee says.
By getting the vaccine on camera, Lee hopes to combat long-running distrust of the medical establishment in Black and Brown communities. While people of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, they are more wary of health professionals and less likely to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey.
Although Lee has no misgivings about the vaccine, he understands why many people of color do not trust the medical and scientific community. There are examples of racism in scientific research, such as the Tuskegee Study syphilis experiment, and more recent studies that reveal a pattern of racial bias in how doctors diagnose and treat pain in Black people.
But when asked what gives him confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, Lee didn’t hesitate. “Science,” he says.