Omar Neal (63), a former mayor in the Alabama town, admitted that he was initially hesitant about taking the shots. Neal is a nephew to Freddie Lee Tyson. He was a family man and one of several hundred Black men who participated in the federally backed syphilis research decades ago without their consent.
Neal stated that he was able to participate in the national campaign because he had done research to build confidence in vaccines.
Neal stated that he wanted to save lives. "I did not want people to use Tuskegee, and the events there as a reason to not take the vaccine."
Over 40 years and in 1932, Black men from Tuskegee (Alabama) were subject to experimentation without their consent. The majority of the 600 men infected with syphilis, including Tyson, were not treated so that researchers could examine the natural history of this disease.
In 1988, Tyson died of unrelated causes 16 years after the end of the study. Many others also died of a disease that can't be treated with penicillin.
"Don't deny yourself the chance the men were denied," Tyson’s 76-year old daughter, Lillie Tyson head, stated in an ad.
"It's up to us that we take responsibility for our health and this story," Carmen Head Thornton (the granddaughter Tyson called his "Carmen girl") said in another ad.
COVID-19 is highly resistant to vaccines. The U.S. vaccine rates are still lower than the government's goals. Only 46% of Americans have been fully vaccinated, while 54% have only received one dose. White Americans have been more successful in getting shots than those of color.
The slow pace of new vaccines is causing concern among authorities due to persistent resistance. Some Blacks have limited access to vaccines, but they also distrust the medical system.
Thornton was a director at American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry when she first learned about her grandfather's death. They were very close. She recalls her first fish catch with him, and being captivated as he made quilts by hand.
She pledged her life to fight health injustices and inequalities, and views COVID-19 vaccinations as a way of addressing the disparities that were exposed by the pandemic.