Diversity and Inclusion Are Keys to Effective COVID-19 Clinical Trials


African Americans and other people of color continue to disproportionately die from the highly infectious spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the United States of America in 2020. It is a global pandemic. But in America, it is people of African descent who are suffering at an unprecedented rate of morbidities and death from this deadly airborne virus.

Thus, the “State of Emergency” with respect to COVID-19 continues as the debate is escalating about whether or not African Americans and others should participate in clinical trials that are attempting to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

To reiterate, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), as the trusted voice of Black America, in March of 2020 established the NNPA Coronavirus Task Force as a means of increasing public awareness about the overall preexisting health disparities in Black America and about the disproportionate fatal consequences of COVID-19 for African Americans and other people of color.

Trust is something that is not easy to establish in any circumstance. When it comes to medical research, however, there are valid reasons why African Americans have to make sure that they trust the people, institutions, and the science that are involve in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine.

We fully understand that point, and that is why we continue to write, speak and to encourage greater public awareness and involvement by African American research scientists, infectious disease scholars and physicians, and other expert clinicians to take leadership in the current COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials to assure that the public health interests of Black America are protected and well served.

Again, I am going to repeat that, “Black Americans have to be involved at all levels of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to be silent, detached, denied, or prevented from being at the decision-making tables in terms of COVID-19 public health policies, research, clinical trials, remedies, and vaccine development. Our lives and future are at stake.”

In other words, African American engagement is still crucial and critical in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine including participation in clinical trials to make sure that the new vaccine is effective to prevent African Americans and others from COVID-19 infections and preventable death.

Previously, I mentioned that 3 years ago the NNPA, Howard University and Pfizer collaborated to do a national landmark poll and study on African American awareness on Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). This was important because African Americans also are disproportionately impacted by SCD across the nation.

To the surprise of many, included in that NNPA-Howard University Pfizer national research poll and study was the issue of the willingness African Americans to participate in clinical trials with respect to SCD. It was noteworthy and on point to our current public health challenges to learn and to document that 76% of African American poll respondents had a positive or neutral attitudes toward SCD clinical trials, and a majority indicated a willingness to participate in future clinical trials for SCD, given appropriate knowledge and recommendations from health care professionals. t is good to now witness the Howard University College of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Morehouse School of Medicine, the National Medical Association and other African American medical leaders in the public health space take an active and visible role in the effort to insure “diversity and inclusion” with respect to African American participation in COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

We must take the lead, keep the faith, build the trust, and demand transparency, diversity and inclusion in the development of a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached at dr.bchavis@nnpa.org .

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