GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Black Impact Collaborative held a community conversation on Wednesday over Zoom, speaking about clinical trials and vaccines and the hesitancy among the African American community with them.
The forum host and BIC member, Dr. Walter Brame, explained that “it is crucial to share this information so that everyone is empowered to make confident and informed decisions,” about whether to take a COVID 19 vaccine once it is offered.
Dr. Surender Rajasekaran, the medical director of research at Spectrum Health, went over some of the most damaging experiences with vaccines and clinical trials that have caused such hesitancy in the African American community, while stressing the importance of change as we go forward. “It’s hard now to ask those same folks to trust right? But it’s important,” explained Dr. Rajasekaran.
He cited the Tuskegee Institute’s study on syphilis that started in the 1930s and ran for decades, with many deaths among the black test subjects who only received placebos. Dr. Rajasekaran also referenced the Malaria Research Project during World War II that exposed more than 400 prisoners to the mosquito-carried disease and how the African American members of the study were given drugs that resulted in a high rate of complications.
The BIC also presented data from recent flu vaccinations that showed African Americans taking the vaccine at a 10% lower rate than white Americans.
“This tells you the challenge we are going to face when the COVID vaccines come out,” noted Dr. Rajasekaran.
The BIC stressed the importance of these future vaccinations, explaining that if African Americans had the same mortality rate from COVID-19 as white Americans, then between 20,000 and 30,000 more African Americans would be alive today.
The BIC said the plan is to spread transparency and education throughout the community as the trials continue.