NBA player Trey Burke has apparently revealed himself to be against vaccinations and made no secret about it on his Instagram stories Tuesday afternoon. While it was unclear what sparked the anti-vaxxer social media outburst, his comments came during a public health pandemic caused by the coronavirus, a highly contagious respiratory disease also known as COVID-19 that scientists around the world were working to find a vaccine.
Burke, a point guard who last played with the Philadelphia 76ers before this season ended prematurely because of the coronavirus, took to his Instagram Stories to sound off on the topic of getting immunized. It was unclear what prompted him to share his opinion vaccinations, but what was clear is that they quickly turned conspiracy theories that experts have said are typically spread out of fear.
“F*ck a vaccination,” Burke’s Instagram Stories began. “Tryna kill us YOU [emoji eyes] you crazy you think otherwise!”
He continued by telling his followers to “Pick a side” before explaining that he would rather put his faith in his religion. “I choose the Most High through Christ could careless [sic] what the world think [shrugging emoji].”
Burke went on to suggest he didn’t care what anybody thought about his opinion on getting vaccinated, something he likened to radio-frequency identification (RFID) — tracking devices — that by definition uses “electronic tags placed on objects, people, or animals to relay identifying information to an electronic reader by means of radio waves.” Burke said “RFID in full effect and they ready to implement!”
He later suggested the hospital tried to prevent him from leaving with his baby without vaccinations.
Black folks have every reason to be suspicious of vaccinations in this country. Lest we forget the so-called Tuskegee experiment, a clinical study ordered by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the progression of the disease syphilis in poor, rural Black men that was masked to the subjects as free health care from the government. With the Public Health Service working in tandem with the Tuskegee Institute (nor University, an HBCU), Black sharecroppers were left suffering from the disease even though there was a known treatment in 1947 using penicillin. Nevermind the AIDS epidemic that has disproportionately affected Black people as well as the “involuntary government sanctioned sterilization programs, medical discrimination and highly suspicious “birth control” programs even into the 1990s” that NBC News reminded readers of.
The anti-vaxxer movement dates back centuries and is much more common among Black folks than other races and ethnicities, according to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). When it comes to immunizations against influenza (the flu), measles-mumps-rubella, pneumonia, tetanus, shingles and HPV, “vaccination coverage was significantly lower among non-Hispanic blacks compared with non-Hispanic whites,” the study on racial and ethnic disparities among adults found. The study took certain factors into account, such as Black folks being less likely to be insured. However, a lack of insurance was probably not the case for Burke, whose base salary for the 2019-20 season was $2,028,594, according to Spotrac, an online sports information resource.
The World Health Organization — the same World Health Organization that’s heavily involved in working to control the coronavirus — classified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 threats to global health last year and blamed people experiencing it on “complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence are key reasons underlying hesitancy.”
Along those same lines, Forbes explained earlier this year how having that type of attitude toward vaccinations was linked to the current coronavirus crisis, albeit for misguided reasons. While the coronavirus is indeed a public health crisis, “it has nothing to do with vaccines. Nonetheless, some anti-vaxxers have claimed that the new virus originated from a failed effort to create a coronavirus vaccine,” contributor Steven Salzberg wrote in February.
Still, numbers don’t lie, and there are plenty of Black folks who seem to agree with the sentiments expressed by Burke on Instagram. Rapper Royce Da 5’9″ has defended his anti-vaxx lyrics on the song “Tricked” off his new album, “The Allegory,” which was released late last month. On the song, Royce rhymed, “From day one at the hospital they target our children, say they gonna immunize ‘em they somehow get autism.” Those lyrics were in spite of the Journal of the American Medical Association definitively finding measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations are “not associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders.”
Royce said he has “a child on the spectrum” and that all of his children have been vaccinated, but he also told Complex in an interview that he has found his own evidence of a link between vaccinations and autism. However, he said, “I’m not in any way trying to encourage people to not get their kids vaccinated. I encourage you to believe what you want to believe.”
The NBA has been struck by the coronavirus, with multiple players being infected by COVID-19. That fact combined with the free time players have now that the season has been cut short may have contributed to Burke’s anti-vaxx comments. Considering all of the above, it’s unclear how he’ll feel about the NIH beginning a clinical trial to find an effective vaccine against the coronavirus.
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