Black Americans have been dying from the coronavirus at alarming rates, but continue to show skepticism about signing up to test potential vaccines.
The lack of trust Black Americans have with the medical community has extended to phase 3 coronavirus vaccine trials, which need a large number of people from different backgrounds to prove the medication is effective.
There are currently 12 coronavirus vaccine trials in a phase 3 trial, but two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna have struggled to find Black participants for their trials. Pfizer announced Sept. 28 that only 9% of its coronavirus trial participants are Black.
Moderna has made some strides in getting more Black Americans to participate. The pharmaceutical company posted the racial makeup of the 30,000 participants in its trial. In the last week of August, Moderna announced Black Americans composed only 9% of new enrollees. However, by the end of September, that figure had increased to 30%.
Historically Black colleges and universities have tried to convince more Black Americans to join coronavirus trials. The presidents of Dillard University and Xavier University joined a vaccine trial and are encouraging HBCU students to do the same.
“If we are not represented in the trial in significant numbers there are things we would not learn that is very important after the fact once the vaccine becomes fully applied,” Xavier University of Louisiana President Reynold Verret, who is also an immunologist, told Business Insider.
Blair Kelley, a history professor at North Carolina State University, criticized the HBCU presidents for promoting the vaccine trials.
Woke up this morning still mad and wondering why this hasn’t made the national news yet? Asking students at two HBCUs to sign up for vaccine trials under university letterhead. pic.twitter.com/RkN1tLIkB8
— Blair LM Kelley, PhD (@profblmkelley) September 7, 2020
Kelley told Busines Insider she respected the university leaders, but questioned the wisdom of putting more Black Americans “on the forefront of a vaccine trial.”
“When you go and you put it on your university letterhead and you ask people who are your underlings, as your staff and faculty, and to the students who are beholden to you to have an education … you don’t want to take that power for granted,” she said.
Along with the trust issues Black Americans have with the medical community, the coronavirus has not been kind to Black Americans. According to a Business Insider report earlier this summer, Black counties accounted for 58% of coronavirus deaths and 52% of nationwide cases.
Black Americans Lack Trust In The Medical Community
Black Americans’ lack of trust doesn’t come from a conspiracy theory but from decades of being lied to and experimented on by government health officials, beginning with J. Marion Sims. A Confederate doctor who perfected his surgical techniques by operating without anesthesia on enslaved black women.
There’s also the Tuskeegee experiments, a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service, in which Black men were given syphilis to observe what happens when the disease is untreated. There’s also the story of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cancer cells were used for research for 62 years without her consent.
“First and foremost you have to understand the historical implications and experience of Black Americans in this country as it comes to medicine,” Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, told Business Insider. “I would say that African Americans don’t believe in a mistrustful healthcare system because that’s the experience of many in this country.”