Did The COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials Include African Americans?

90-year-old Jether Tiller of Maple Heights received the COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospitals on Jan.19, 2020. Cleveland's Black residents make up about half of the city’s population but during the virus’ first peak in July, 73 percent of hospitalized patient and 60 percent of the deaths were among Black residents. [University Hospitals]
90-year-old Jether Tiller of Maple Heights received the COVID-19 vaccine at University Hospitals on Jan.19, 2020. Cleveland's Black residents make up about half of the city’s population but during the virus’ first peak in July, 73 percent of hospitalized patient and 60 percent of the deaths were among Black residents. [University Hospitals]
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Joyce from Cleveland asks: “As an African American, I am concerned about the trial testing of the vaccine with people of color. Historically, few African Americans participate in pharmaceutical trials. My level of confidence in taking the vaccine is aligned with this history. How do I find out the trial and testing demographics?"

Moderna and Pfizer, the two companies that have vaccines approved for use in the U.S, did actively recruit diverse participants, said Dr. Amy Ray, an infectious disease specialist from MetroHealth.

African American participants made up about 10 percent for each of the brands, and Black people make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

“I think we should celebrate the fact that these are more reflective,” Dr. Ray said. “Finally, medical science is reflecting what our population looks like.”

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Black community, so it’s important that the vaccine is tested on people of color so they can be protected against the virus without worrying about vaccine side effects, Ray said

Many people of color are hesitant to sign up for trials, due to a history of racism in research studies.

The scientific community hasn’t always valued diversity. Historically, clinical trials were typically based on white men of average weight, she said.

Diversity in clinical trials helps doctors and researchers better understand medicine and vaccines, she said. If different races, genders, and weights aren’t studied, it’s harder to know how drugs or vaccines would affect a certain population.

In November 2020, the Food and Drug Administration released guidance to enhance diversity in clinical trials.

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