Black Americans distrust the government so much they’re not participating in large numbers in COVID-19 clinical trials, and many say they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine – at least not until many others get it.
Although the first two large clinical trials of candidate vaccines have managed to include about 3,000 Black participants each, it hasn’t been easy. And later trials might have even more trouble.
Polls show that among racial and ethnic groups, Black Americans are the most hesitant to get a vaccine once one becomes available, and their skepticism is rising fast. In one September survey, only 32% of Black adults said they would get a vaccine, down from 54% in May.
In a recent focus group run by a foundation that supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Black participants brought up systemic racism for their hesitancy and cited the government-backed Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which Black men were told they were getting free medical care but instead were denied therapy for their syphilis for decades.
“I firmly believe that this is another Tuskegee Experiment,” one focus group member said.
“We are the ones who are the guinea pigs for the rich,” another said.
“The more they study me, the more they know how to get rid of me,” a third added.
Without adequate Black and Hispanic participation in clinical trials, it won’t be clear whether the vaccine will be safe and effective for them. Although there are no significant genetic distinctions by race or ethnicity, people of color may react differently to a vaccine because of their different lived experiences, experts say.
And if people don’t get vaccinated, they will remain vulnerable to the virus, which has ravaged communities of color in particular. Black Americans are 2½ times more likely to contract COVID-19, nearly five times as likely to be hospitalized with it and twice as likely to die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A vaccine, which is likely to be ready early next year, is considered the best hope for ending the pandemic, but if not enough Americans will get it, then months of effort and $10 billion in taxpayer funding will have been wasted.
To prevent that from happening, the government needs to make a concerted outreach effort to address the concerns of people of color, said Dr. Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in an interview with Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor-in-chief of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“We have to really get to a place where we can reckon with past wrongs and we effectively communicate to this community,” she said. “It means investing in holding intimate conversations around where we’ve done gone wrong and why we have to move past Tuskegee, and think seriously about how African Americans engage in participating in clinical trials.”
Alexandre White, a historian of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said mistrust needs to be addressed urgently. “We’re seeing a deeply uncoordinated strategy. We’re not seeing a nationally coordinated strategy,” he said.
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Source: USA Today