As health officials have struggled to retain the trust of the public during the current coronavirus pandemic, CBS reports that a new task force has emerged to act as conduit between the medical system and the general populace. Members of the oldest Black physicians group in the nation have come together to vet official decisions concerning the COVID-19 vaccines and drugs, particularly in how those measures pertain to African-Americans.
The National Medical Association (NMA), which was founded in 1895 as an inclusionary society for Black doctors, has announced it is forming a panel to help minority groups obtain trustworthy information about COVID-19 therapies, prevention, and vaccine trials. The task force includes infectious disease and immunization experts who will be “reviewing the available data to help ensure appropriate evidence exists, and that in clinical trials diversity is represented, in order for us to speak to the safety and allocation within the African-American community,” Dr. Leon McDougle, president of the NMA, told CBS this month.
With the White House racing to produce a vaccine by January, there is concern that political priorities will take precedence over the normal vaccine vetting process, which is typically several years.
The task force’s role is to counteract the negativity and apprehension surrounding the rumors and misinformation with solid facts. “This is about ensuring safety for Operation Warp Speed,” said Dr. McDougle. “We’re really doing this to be a source of trusted information for our physicians and our community.” Operation Warp Speed is an initiative by the Health and Human Services Department to “produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021,” HHS says on the OWS fact sheet website.
Studies have shown that African-Americans distrust the medical system more than White patients and are often the recipients of subpar care. There are numerous examples in history of African-Americans being subjected to medical procedures and outright experimentation without their consent. Two famous cases are that of Henrietta Lacks, as well as the 40-year study by the Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute, an experiment they conducted in which developed remedies were kept from 400 syphilis patients in Alabama, all of whom were black men.
According to McDougle, the new task force was formed in an effort to combat the uncertainty that has sprung up about the vaccines, due to the new “warp speed” directive. Some may worry that the shots have not been properly tested and assessed for underlying issues. African-Americans are particularly wary about participating in clinical trials, and these worries could persist after a safe vaccine is released.
“I think this will help to increase uptake in the African-American community, if members of our task force give it the green light,” McDougle told Stat News this month. He stressed that it will only happen if the information shows them that it is a legitimate vaccine.
McDougle also expressed concern over the politicization of the decisions being made in the medical sphere. This includes the decision of the FDA in June to give VA hospitals the authority to give hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, to COVID-19 patients, only to revoke it in late March, saying the drugs were possibly ineffectual and might pose a serious health risk, such as “ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other serious side effects.” The use of hydroxychloroquine was highly touted by President Donald Trump despite numerous reports on the risks and ineffectuality of using the drug.
“There seems to be political influence and it’s disturbing,” said McDougle. “We want to help provide some clarity with the mixed messages out there.”
Despite politics infiltrating the process of the coronavirus fight, the NMA doctors hope to provide a positive and transparent message to African-Americans that could potentially save thousands of lives.