March 3, 2024

Covid-19 driven by racism, say major journals

In the wake of revulsion at the death of George Floyd, scientists and doctors vow to change

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

All of the world’s major science and medical journals published articles this week on the link between systemic racism and Covid-19. Their observations were remarkably similar: racism is a principal driver of the pandemic, white scientists must acknowledge their own implicit and explicit bias, and we must present a united front against racism.

Below we present excerpts from their editorials:

The Lancet:

“’I can't breathe’. These were the last words of George Floyd. They stand as an indictment of the pervasive oppression he and his community have faced and continue to face. These words also stand for the pervasive oppression inflicted on all marginalised people of colour. Those working in science, medicine, and public health must be representative of the societies they seek to help. But more than that, we have a duty to seek equality as a matter of justice and rights. Anti-racism is a struggle that everybody must join.”

New England Journal of Medicine:

“In an effort to engender trust in what they would like to see as a ‘postracial’ society, some U.S. clinicians proclaim that they ‘don’t see color’. But color must be seen. By looking through a racially impervious lens, clinicians neglect the life experiences and historical inequities that shape patients and disease processes. They may inadvertently feed the robust structural racism that influences access to care, quality of care, and resultant health disparities. At times, we fail to make even the simplest efforts: for instance, even though Covid-19 disproportionately affects black Americans, when physicians describing its manifestations have presented images of dermatologic effects, black skin has not been included. The “Covid toes” have all been pink and white.”


“Honest and compassionate people disagree about health care’s proper role in improving social conditions, countering inequity, and fighting against structural racism. Some say it should remain focused on the traditional: caring for illness. Others (this author among them) believe that it is important and appropriate to expand the role of physicians and health care organizations into demanding and supporting societal reform.

The angry, despairing victims of inequity, and their supporters, marching in the streets of the US despair in part because they and their parents and their grandparents and generations before have been waiting far too long. They find no moral law in evidence, no social contract bilaterally intact. They do not believe in promises of change, because for too long people remain hungry and homeless, with the doors of justice so long closed.


A number of people who see the protests as possible drivers of more covid-19 cases have suggested that it is hypocritical of doctors to support anti-racism protestors now when weeks earlier they denounced large crowds due to the risk of spreading covid-19.

Framing anti-racism protests against the control of covid-19 is a false dichotomy. Will crowds possibly lead to more covid-19 cases? Yes. But so will unabated racism. …

Racism—the explicit and intentional oppression of people from ethnic minorities, not by accident, but by systematic intention for centuries and unabatedly into the present—is the underlying driver of why black patients are at the center of the American covid-19 epidemic.

As doctors, this is the time to speak up and step up. This is not about politics. This is not about preserving the status quo, or being afraid to ruffle feathers. This is about life and death. This is about the fact that in our country, a police officer felt like he could put his knee on a black man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while being filmed.


It is time for the scientific establishment to confront this reality [of systemic racism] and to admit its role in perpetuating it. The first step is for science and scientists to say out loud that they have benefited from, and failed to acknowledge, white supremacy. And then science and scientists finally need to listen to, and make space for, people of color to lead laboratories that publish great science and produce influential scientists, run institutions and their scientific units, and propel Science and other journals to promote structurally underfunded scientists and areas of science.


Nature condemns police prejudice and violence, we stand against all forms of racism and we join others around the world in saying, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter …

We recognize that Nature is one of the white institutions that is responsible for bias in research and scholarship. The enterprise of science has been — and remains — complicit in systemic racism, and it must strive harder to correct those injustices and amplify marginalized voices.

At Nature, we will redouble our efforts to do so, and commit to establishing a process that will hold us to account on the many changes we need to make.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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