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Opinion | We Need to Recruit More Black Americans in Vaccine Trials

Black doctors are the best way to build trust in our communities. But they need help. Without significant participation in clinical trials, there will be no proof that our patients should trust the vaccine.

Morehouse School of Medicine and Meharry Medical College have been identified as clinical trial sites, and are in the early stages of volunteer recruitment. But an expansion is necessary. Researchers and the medical industry should engage the remaining two Black and minority serving medical schools — Charles R. Drew College of Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine — in the vaccine trials now. In addition, the 104 Historically Black Colleges and Universities can serve as credible messengers to distribute information and foster trust in communities throughout the country.

Their involvement should include the recruitment of patients, participation in the science, and development of the plan to distribute the vaccine to the most vulnerable communities. Unlike what happened with the development of antiviral treatment for AIDS, the African-American population should not be last to get access to the lifesaving medication.

Economic barriers must also be lifted. Institutions must work with African-Americans who can’t take time away from work, by engaging with employers to provide time for employee participation as a health incentive. And because our communities suffer from a lack of reliable transportation, institutions must also conduct trials where we live.

The African-American community must also be willing to engage: ask hard questions and consult trusted sources in order to assuage legitimate concerns.

The Black Lives Matter movement reminds us that we do not have to be confined by the ugliest parts of our nation’s history or our fallen human nature. We have an opportunity to do something better in this moment. Simply put, the largest population being killed by Covid-19 should have a significant role in development of a treatment.

The human rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer grew up under the brutality of Jim Crow in the Mississippi Delta that included forced sterilization — an abhorrent practice so common it became known as a “Mississippi appendectomy.” Mrs. Hamer reached a point where the status quo would simply not do, famously remarking “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She demanded full inclusion in American democracy for all Black Americans.

We find ourselves at another inflection point where the status quo cannot stand. True change requires that government and industry make every effort to achieve true diversity in clinical trials. Black lives depend on it.

Wayne A. I. Frederick is the president of Howard University; Valerie Montgomery Rice is the president of Morehouse School of Medicine; David M. Carlisle is president of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; James E. K. Hildreth is president of Meharry Medical College.

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