There has been widespread distrust in an eventual COVID-19 vaccine among Black Americans, and polls show that among racial and ethnic groups, Black Americans are the most hesitant to get a vaccine once one becomes available. A Pew Research poll from September showed that only 32% of Black adults said they would get a vaccine, which is down from 54% in May.
Black participants pointed to systemic racism for their reason not to get the vaccine, including the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken without her knowledge or consent and turned into the HeLa cell line, one of the most important cell lines in medical research. Black participants in a recent focus group run by a foundation that supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated that they believed the COVID-19 vaccine trials to be another Tuskegee experiment. Another added, "We are the ones who are the guinea pigs for the rich."
Experts point out that there are no significant genetic distinctions by race or ethnicity, but they want to study if people of color may react differently to a vaccine because of their different lived experiences. Black Americans have been one of the most vulnerable groups to contract the virus, with 2.5 more chances of contracting COVID-19, five times more likely to be hospitalized, and twice as likely to die.
Presidents at both Xavier University and Dillard University in New Orleans decided to join a COVID-19 vaccine trial and document their experiences in order to convince students, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader community to also join a trial. Dillard's Walter Kimbrough wrote in his letter, "I'm doing it. It's something you should think about, because there's a need."
Kimbrough went on to point out how people put themselves at risk regularly with the things they put into their bodies, stating, "I look at the food that a lot of people eat, the poison that people willingly put in their bodies every day, so how can you tell me you're mad at me for volunteering to be part of a study that will help you? If you go eat that spicy Popeye's that's not helping me, and you're definitely not helping you."
Moderna, who is developing one of the leading vaccines, slowed its clinical trial in September to boost diversity in their trials, and they now have 3,000 Black participants and nearly twice that of Hispanic participants. Out of total participants, there are 36% enrollees of color, which company president Stephen Hoge believes represents the diversity of the United States. Still, a large amount of the population will need to get the vaccine when it's approved for public use, as it's considered the best hope for ending the pandemic.
Source: USA Today