ATLANTA, Ga. — As manufacturers await the green light to distribute vaccines, and COVID-19 rages at unprecedented levels across the U.S., Black health experts are offering insight into challenges facing the most vulnerable communities.
In the first of what’s set to become routine briefings with Black journalists and national media, experts held a virtual conversation by the newly-form Black Coalition Against COVID-19. Backed by the National Urban League, the health care professionals represent the nation’s historically Black medical schools, the National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association and BlackDoctor. org.
Topics ranged from mistrust, disinformation, social construct that lead to health inequities and what the latest vaccine developments mean for Black and brown communities.
“What we must to do is make sure that we as Black health professionals, make sure that we are at the forefront of bringing the story to our community and making sure that they can feel confident when we do say a vaccine is available that we say it is protective and safe, that they can use it,” said Dr. Wayne Frederick, a surgeon and president of Howard University
This comes, as the FDA considers an emergency use authorization application from Pfizer that was submitted on Friday. Moderna expects to submit one before the end of the year. If approved, limited distribution begins immediately.
“And therein lies, the potential second pandemic within the pandemic-can we distribute the vaccine to those who should get it, and protect those who are at most risk?” asked Frederick, who pointed out the need for a national strategy beyond the healthcare system.
Frederick warned cautious optimism about efficacy reports of the vaccines pending approval, due the unknowns surrounding participate exposure.
“So yes, people who got the vaccine were less likely—or did not contract COVID at the same rate, but we don’t know if all participants were exposed to COVID at the same level,” Frederick said.
Dr. Valerie Montgomery-Rice, an obstetrician and president of Morehouse School of Medicine noted national efforts to ensure people of color are included in the research. She has served on a National Institute of Health panel observing the trials that includes the marketing plan to get information to the public.
“What we have seen with the Moderna and the Pzifer trials is at least 14% of those persons in the trials have been people of color,” Dr. Montgomery-Rice said. “We believe there’s been good representation, not total representation, but good representation of people of color in the trials.”
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Montgomery-Rice said the scientists behind the trial research include people of color in leadership roles.
“I am very comforted in the fact that people who are making the decisions in the room, (they) have a diverse population of people making those decisions.”
The nation’s four historically Black medical schools, including Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine, serve as ongoing clinical trial sites. Dr. Montgomery-Rice said Morehouse’s opens next week, and participant enrollment continues.
“We want people of color to participate and we must participate,” said Dr. Montgomery-Rice. “And the reason I say this to people is because you all, we don’t want any gap in the data. We don’t want any unanticipated side effects to occur after we’re at what we call Phase Four where we’re out there and everyone’s getting the vaccine, and we say ‘oh we didn’t think about sickle-cell trait…..”l
“That’s why you need diversity in the clinical trial, so that during this phase you can see those unanticipated side effects, and have a plan of action for them.”
The experts also pointed out African-American leadership in the data review for the trials, from NIH leadership, lab scientists and a member of the advisory committee that guides decisions prior to FDA approval.
“So those who are worried about whether or not there will be sufficient AA leadership in reviewing these things, can put those worries to rest,” said the coalition’s founder Dr. Reed Tuckson.
“We are under the tent, in the bubble and in the game and we will absolutely be advocating for our community.”