Some Americans distrust vaccine clinical trials

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While drug companies are feeling confident as they test possible COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, the African-American community is still distrusting of the products. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mark F. Gray
AFRO Staff Writer
mgray@afro.com

President-Elect Joe Biden may have gotten a head start to curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic, as a new vaccine appears to be a legitimate treatment against the virus. Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they have a potential remedy which was reportedly found to be more than 90% effective in safely treating participants during their first interim efficacy analysis.

A Pfizer pharmaceuticals vaccine candidate was found to be effective against COVID-19 without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection. As with most issues facing the outgoing administration, there is great debate on whether the vaccine will be ready for mass distribution by Inauguration Day.  

Black and Latino communities continue to get hit the hardest by this pandemic. However, the Black American mortality rate is still at a higher rate than other racial demographic. According to research compiled by National Public Radio (NPR), African Americans get infected and die from COVID-19 at rates more than one and a half times their share of the population. In Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan, Blacks die at a rate more than 2.5 times their share of the population from the virus.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that they account for 21% of deaths from COVID-19 and 3% of enrollees in vaccine trials. Research suggests that for historic reasons, Black Americans are reluctant to be used as test subjects for any vaccine trials. It traces back to the  well-documented syphilis study at Tuskegee, where investigators kept treatment from hundreds of Black men to study the natural history of the disease. American physicians and researchers have used Blacks as test subjects for centuries leading to an absence of trust in communities where analysis of the vaccine is vital to curtail the pandemic’s mortality rate.

Presidents of the four HBCU medical schools have been trying to increase the participation of Black patients in clinical trials, but not without pushback. The presidents of Dillard and Xavier (LA) Universities, posted on Facebook they were participating in one of the vaccine trials and asking their students, faculty and staff to consider doing the same. In response to the post, one user wrote, “Our children are not lab rats for drug companies. I cannot believe that Xavier is participating in this. This is very disturbing given the history of drug trials in the Black and Brown communities.”

The deep seeds of racism continue to plague the apparent attempts by companies such as Pfizer to gain the confidence of the Black community and may delay the introduction to the communities, which need to be vaccinated the most. However, the apprehension is not an illusion. While the pandemic stress is wearing heavily on people, the implied transparency has not led to a spike in the numbers who are enthused about drugs that are being produced at warp speed.

Lame duck President Trump’s rhetoric, which many say has fueled racial division, can’t be underscored as an issue either. The research suggests trust could be earned quicker with a collaborative designed “Operation Build Trustworthiness” program at the grassroots level. It would include community influencers with solid, well-earned reputations, who are trusted in Black communities. The targets are respected, elected representatives, trusted local and national faith leaders, community and advocates.  

However, many of the leaders themselves have their own questions and doubts about the safety of warp speed vaccines.