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Two HBCU presidents join Covid-19 vaccine trial to highlight the importance of black participation

Presidents Walter Kimbrough of Dillard University and Reynold Verret of Xavier University sent letters to their university communities earlier this month saying they decided to participate in a Phase 3 study of a vaccine under development by Pfizer.

“Overcoming the virus will require access to vaccines that are effective for all people in our communities, especially our black and brown neighbors,” they wrote.

“It is of the utmost importance that a significant number of black and brown subjects participate,” they wrote, “so that the effectiveness of these vaccines can be understood in the many different populations that make up these United States.”


Health experts have stressed the importance of a wide range of volunteers in Covid-19 vaccine trials, especially because the pandemic has disproportionately affected color communities.

“I only saw all the articles that showed that we do not have a good representation,” Kimbrough told CNN. “People claim that you do not know if it works for all populations if you do not have a robust sample.”

But the answer has been largely negative, he said, with some people comparing him to a “lab rat.”

“I think overwhelmingly people are skeptical,” he said.

He pointed to mistrust among some African Americans stemming from the Tuskegee syphilis study. Critics on social media also cited the study, commonly known as the Tuskegee Experiment.
From the 1930s onwards, it involved doctors in the American public health service who deliberately left black men untreated for syphilis so that they could study the course of the infection. They did this despite the fact that penicillin emerged during the study as a viable and effective treatment.

Kimbrough and Verret acknowledged Tuskegee and other “unethical examples of medical research” in their letters – cases that undermined “trust in caregivers and caregivers” among African Americans.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that while black Americans face higher risks from Covid-19, they are more hesitant to trust medical experts and sign up for a potential vaccine.

In an interview on SiriusXM earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci that skepticism from minority communities must be met with openness. He also cited Tuskegee as a major cause of mistrust.

“Results from how the government and medical experiments have treated the African American community are not something to be proud of,” he said.

‘I fully understand the fear’

Kimbrough and Verret are not alone. When Dawn Baker, a black news anchor at CNN’s subsidiary WTOC in Savannah, Georgia, said she agreed to the trial of a Modern vaccine candidate, skeptics also took up the Tuskegee experiment.

One said Baker had “lost his mind.”

“I can not fight (the story). I fully understand the fear,” Baker told CNN’s Poppy Harlowe. But Baker trusted her doctor for more than 30 years, asking her to attend.

“For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the solution,” she said. “So I really feel that what needs to happen is before we go into these vaccine studies, an effort must be made with the minority community to actually explain and acknowledge that there is a problem and what is happening there.”

Verret agreed that Tuskegee and “many other similar events” must be acknowledged. But there are “people like me around the table,” he said, who ask questions and try the tests.

Systemic racism exists in the United States, he told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.

“But at the same time, it should not stop us from ensuring that we have access to something necessary to save the lives of our people, especially given that African Americans and other people of color are dying and suffering from Covid-19 at disproportionate prices,” he said. Verret.

Kimbrough said some counter-reactions have stemmed from claims that their letter was a “mandate”, when they just wanted their communities to “just think about it.”

In a frightening history of forced sterilization, some fear that the United States will begin a new chapter

“But it’s hard to tell someone to think of something you are not willing to do yourself,” he said.

Kimbrough had his first meeting with researchers on 25 August. He had to complete a direction that explained the trial and each step. He also received a Covid-19 test with a nasal stick. Then he got an injection – but he does not know if he got the vaccine candidate or placebo.

Otherwise, once a week, an app on Kimbrough’s phone asks him to fill out a survey, which describes how he feels and if he has any symptoms. He went back for a second injection this week and will need to go back regularly.

But just like Baker, Kimbrough is happy to do his thing.

“I’m just tired of all this,” he said of the pandemic. “I’m ready to get back to a certain sense of normalcy and a vaccine will be a part of that.”

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