A new study has revealed that despite being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Black people are underrepresented in clinical trials for a vaccine.
CBS News reports that while Black people make up 18 percent of the nation’s population, they only represent 11 percent and 16 percent of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine trials, respectively. Both companies are currently in their phase three trials where volunteers test the effectiveness of the vaccine. For its part, Moderna is currently trying to recruit more non-white volunteers for their trials.
“Under-recruitment is the primary problem,” Dr. Hala Borno, the author of the study, told CBS News. “I think if we invest in engaging with the communities we want to see enrolled in our clinical trials, then trust won’t be the barrier.”
Skepticism of the process has been cited as one of the reasons why Black people are underrepresented in the trials. Dr. Chris Pernell, a Black woman who lost her father to the virus, decided to volunteer for the vaccine due to the personal impact on her family. She told CBS News that people around her expressed concern with her decision, asking “Are you sure you should do this? Is it safe?”
“I don’t think that skepticism can be lessened necessarily. I say embrace it and then inform people with the facts,” Pernell said. Borno believes that placing the blame on mistrust as opposed to under-recruitment is irresponsible and an “unacceptable cop-out.” She points out in her study that when Black Americans are engaged with the process they usually have high participation rates.
Black Americans are 4.7 times more likely than white Americans to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 2.1 times more likely to die, making proper representation in these trials essential. Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that proper representation is necessary to properly measure the vaccine’s effectiveness. “We’ve got to get a higher percentage of minorities into the clinical trial so that when we get the data we can say that it applies equally,” Fauci told CBS News.
The National Institutes of Health have launched a targeted media campaign to recruit more non-white participants. To combat any skepticism in these communities, Rev. Edwin Sanders is working alongside the NIH on a program that works with faith-based leaders to provide accurate information about COVID-19 treatments. “What we’re trying to do is to make sure that people have a level of knowledge that allows them to make informed decisions,” Sanders said.
There are concerns among potential participants about the negative side effects that could arise from testing an unproven treatment. Understanding of those concerns, Pernell is hoping to be an example for others in her community.
“We need to be able to get an answer,” Pernell told CBS News. “And I want to help us get there.”