Did y’all know that Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, is partly responsible for why there is a COVID-19 vaccine? Lacks was a mother of five who was dying from cervical cancer in Baltimore during the 1950s. She was born on the 1st of August 1920, in Virginia and died on the 4th of October 1951 in the hospital. The cells that were removed from Lacks are known as the HeLa cell line; derived from her first and last name.
According to reports, before her fifth pregnancy, Lacks had sensed a knot inside her; bleeding and evidence of a lump in her cervix several months after giving birth, she went to her doctor. Without her knowledge or consent, the doctors removed a cell from her body and gave it to researchers at Johns Hopkins University to use for other experiments. According to the website hopkinsmedicine.org, experts discovered that Lacks’ cells were unlike any of the others they had ever seen. Where other cells would die, Lacks’ cells doubled every 20 to 24 hours.
This procedure turned out to be a world-changing discovery as it led the path to new information on vaccines such as the HPV vaccine, polio vaccine, medications to help with HIV, AIDS and recently the development of COVID-19 vaccines.
Back in 2017 Oprah Winfrey brought Lacks’ story to TV with an HBO movie called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks based off the book of the same name.
The fact that Lacks’ cells are still working their magic to this day is beyond amazing. Back in October the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) honored Lacks for her contribution to medicine. According to WebMD, the Lacks family, who has never benefited from what happened to Lacks, has filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific, a pharmaceutical company, for selling HeLa cells in large quantities at a high price tag.
If you haven’t been vaxed already, maybe this story about Henrietta Lacks is enough to nudge you to get the jab.
By Emmanuella Alausa, Bishop Thomas Grant High School, London