Two Louisiana HBCU presidents made the controversial decision to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trials and want others to follow their lead.
C. Reynold Verret of Xavier University of Louisiana and Dillard University president Walter M. Kimbrough released a joint statement on Sept. 3 in which they revealed their participation. The duo is contributing to a trial run by the Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, Louisiana.
“Overcoming the virus will require the availability of vaccines effective for all peoples in our communities, especially our black and brown neighbors. Phase 3 vaccine trials have begun across the nation, including in New Orleans,” the statement read.
“It is of the utmost importance that a significant number of black and brown subjects participate so that the effectiveness of these vaccines be understood across the many diverse populations that comprise these United States.”
The letter also addressed the Black community’s reluctance to be part of medical research because of unethical medical experiments like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The Tuskegee Study, which occurred from 1932 to 1972, observed Black men, a large number infected with syphillis and a control group of others who didn’t have the disease, to test the effectiveness of penicillin. Controversy resulted from the men being given aspirin and mineral supplements and not being treated, with many going blind, insane or suffering severe health problems and deaths.
According to CBS News, a recent study found Black people and Latinos are underrepresented in COVID-19 clinical trials. Black people account for 13 percent of the population, but only eight percent of trial participants are Black. However, Black people are also 4.8 times more likely to be hospitalized for the virus, compared to whites.
Kimbrough and Verret argued contemporary regulations would prevent another tragedy.
“As presidents of HBCUs, we do recall unethical examples of medical research. We remember the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which misused and caused harm to African Americans and other people of color, undermining trust in health providers and caretakers,” the presidents wrote.
“Today, there are many regulations in place to assure the ethical execution of medical studies, including oversight by Human Subjects Committees with diverse membership and participation of clinicians of color.”
The argument did little to comfort online critics who had stern words for Kimbrough and Verret.
“Don’t do this. You are putting our children at risk with these fast-track vaccines. They are not lab rats!!!” warned one Twitter user.
“So how much money did the school receive, in exchange for offering up these babies? This is shameful,” asked a commenter on Xavier’s Facebook page.
“How dare you let our children be guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical industry,” demanded another critic. “They must have threatened you, because no intelligent, thinking Black man would agree to be a guinea pig for unproven vaccines.”
Verret told NBC News his contribution to the trials is defending the Black community.
“We’re protecting our communities,” Verret said. “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.”