Minorities’ historic mistrust of medicine hinders effort in virus relief

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Amid the race to find a potential vaccine to cure COVID-19, researchers are running into a troubling roadblock.

Experts said the men and women in the black community are largely hesitant to participate in clinical trials, even though the coronavirus disproportionately kills and impacts them.

“The trust issue is the biggest factor there,” said Thomas Silvera, who is a patient advocate.

Doctors say the attitude stems from a long history of mistrust for medical professionals, dating back to the trauma Black people experienced from the Tuskegee Experiment. It’s a 40-year period when doctors used Black men as lab rats to test for untreated syphilis.

“Historically, minority populations haven’t been included in clinical trials, but it is critical that we get them in these studies,” said Marcus Zervos, the division head of infectious disease at Henry Ford Health System.

As a health care worker at the only site in Michigan to offer a Moderna vaccine trial, he said he pushes for equal representation.

“It’s critical to evaluate the effectiveness in all populations because different populations may respond different to one treatment or another,” Zervos said.

Although Zervos maintains Henry Ford Health System’s study includes a high representation of minorities, other researchers do not.

According to the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute, Gilead tested 397 people for it’s clinical trial. The institute said only 11% of participants were Black Americans.

NBC news reported 40 of 45 participants in Moderna’s phase 1 trial were white and that Oxford University said a majority of its participants were white as well, even though it admits limitations of its initial study.

“If nobody’s actively including them, they will miss out on something that could be life-saving,” Linda Goler Blounty, the CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative, told NBC News.

Dr. Zervos said his team is working to ensure scientists protect the most vulnerable communities in Michigan. He said the best way to do that is through community outreach.

“We work with community groups, we work with church groups, we work with the schools and we work with community partners,” Zervos said.