Boston Black Coalition Seeks More Engagement in Upcoming Vaccine Trials

Members of the Boston Black COVID-19 Coalition (BBCC) and other allies gathered in protest at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on August 24 because of what they said is ”hypocrisy in action in the hospital’s handling of its role with MODERNA in the COVID-19 vaccine trials,” according to a recent BBCC press release.

“For an institution that spoke so loud about how much Black Lives Matter, they have been totally unwilling to do anything different. Our insistence that they engage the Black community in the vaccine process has fallen on deaf ears even though they contacted us asking advice on how to increase Black participation which was dismal,” Priscilla Flint-Banks, Convener of the BBCC, said in a statement.

BBCC said in the release that that “no effective targeted outreach to the Black community” was done, which they said does not accurately reflect the Black population at large or the percentage of Black people affected by COVID-19.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital is one of 89 clinical trial sites for Phase 3 of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trials.

A spokesperson for Brigham and Women’s told the Gazette that “at this time, 40 percent of our trial participants at the Brigham are from minority communities, and 12 percent are Black participants. Our community outreach team has been engaging with surrounding neighborhoods to raise awareness about the critical importance of ensuring that clinical trial participants represent the diverse populations which the medicines that are under investigation have the potential to benefit. To accomplish this, we have held education and recruitment sessions with health community centers, webinars, done outreach to churches, local businesses, community advisory boards, patient and family advisory boards, relevant community groups (such as BBCC) and hosted a Town Hall held in Spanish. We look forward to continuing the dialogue and working together with them to raise awareness and improve enrollment.”

Flint-Banks told the Gazette that she felt the protest went “pretty well. We did get the attention we wanted,” she said, with many news outlets covering the event.

“We are very concerned about this vaccine and how it’s going to affect our people,” she said. “We know our history around the Tuskegee” study, she added, citing the 40 year clinical study where Black men were not aware that they were being studied for untreated syphilis.

She added that the BBCC wants to ensure that people of color are active participants in the entire process, from doctors and researchers to clinical trial participants.

“The rate is high,” she said. “We’re the ones that are dying at a rapid rate here and it’s like they don’t want to acknowledge us, they don’t want to partner with us, no that can’t be.”

She said that since the protest, the Fenway Health Center has requested to meet with the BBCC, and Harvard and Brigham and Women’s will also meet with the group, she said.

“We have to keep this in the public view,” Flint-Banks said. “Our community needs to be educated. We need to know what the risks are.” She said that community input is vital, and that another protest will happen if need be. “We have to stay ahead of this as much as we can because we know we’re behind,” she said.

BBCC’s release states that “ Moderna has already announced that it will be charging $37+ per dose, a figure that Boston’s Black and Latino residents will not be able to afford given recent economic indicator reports.”

BBCC member Louis Elisa stated, “We came together when the pandemic started because we knew that Black folks would suffer worse: we wanted to make sure we advocated for appropriate resources for testing, health care, tracking and tracing.  We are not about to stand by and watch the development of a vaccine that may not work for us! This is the ultimate fight, we’re ready for this battle.”

Flint-Banks said, “I just want the medical community to take us seriously and know that our people are dying every day. We have a right to be at the table; we ave a right to be heard.”

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