The presidents of two historically Black colleges in New Orleans stunned their campuses when they announced in a joint message that they had participated in a vaccine trial for Covid-19 and then encouraged students to do the same.
The announcement by Walter M. Kimbrough of Dillard University and C. Reynold Verret of Xavier University of Louisiana in early September immediately conjured up conversations about a common distrust of medical institutions among Black Americans, stemming from an extended list of past malfeasance, especially the study of untreated syphilis among Black men, also known as the Tuskegee experiment.
“We’re protecting our communities,” Verret told NBC News. “It is important to have people like us in these trials. We all know someone who has passed or been hit with Covid-19. When a vaccine comes, we want it to be available and to work on our community. Participating in trials is the only way to do so. We only have 1 or 2 percent; we need 10 to 15 percent participation.”
Another Twitter post read, “The students from HBCUs should definitely sign up for vaccination experiments — right AFTER students from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford.”
Another wrote that “our children should not be used as Guinea pigs.”
Nonetheless, Black researchers, scientists, clinicians and physicians have pushed for people of color to participate in coronavirus human trials. “Genetics related to racial differences make it essential that we be involved in broad-based and diverse clinical trials of medications and vaccines,” Dr. Larry Graham, a retired pulmonologist in Atlanta, said. “We must be sure it works in Black folks. This can only be determined by our inclusion in the research-based trials of such vaccines.”