What will be in a vaccine against COVID-19?
Will it make someone sick?
Will it have side effects?
What happens to people who volunteer to get the vaccine while it’s still being studied?
The questions are driven by more than curiosity. With COVID-19 placing a burden on Black and brown communities, researchers studying potential vaccines want to make sure that clinical trials reflect all populations.
“I don’t have proof of this, but anecdotally communities of color are distrustful of such trials,” said Sheila Rayam, president of Theta Alpha Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
The sorority is partnering with Theta Upsilon Sigma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity to connect people who have questions with experts who can provide answers.
COVID-19 Vaccine Educational Seminar, an online event, features three researchers involved in vaccine trails at the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health:
- Dr. Angela Branche, co-director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit;
- Dr. Ann Falsey, Co-director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit; Infectious Disease Unit, Rochester Regional Health; and
- Dr. Edward Walsh, Infectious Disease Unit, Rochester Regional Health
Registration is at bit.ly/2YJjz54.
Rayam said the sorority and fraternity are not endorsing participation in the trials. They just want to start a conversation.
“You don’t get a chance to sit down with three doctors in a clinical trial and ask,” Rayam said. “COVID 19 has touched us all but had particular impact in Black and brown communities. We have to ask these questions. We need to know what’s going on.”
African Americans had an age-adjusted case rate of 1,564 per 100,000 population, according to data through Aug. 12 from the Monroe County Department of Public Health. The case rate for Latinos was 1,043 per 100,000; the rate for Asians was 484 per 100,000; the case rate for whites was 440 per 100,000.
African Americans were hospitalized at a rate of 338 per 100,000, compared to 214 per 100,000 for Latinos, 74 per 100,000 for Asians and 68 per 100,000 for whites.
The death rate for African Americans was 67 per 100,000; the rate for whites was 27.5 per 100,000.
The idea for the seminar started when sorority sister Karen Rogers, who owns Exercise Express, was collaborating with UR Medicine doctors in the Center for Human Athleticism, Musculoskeletal Performance and Prevention. The topic turned to COVID-19 vaccines, and Rogers said that while the research sounded interesting, she wouldn’t want to take part.
Rogers said they explained the importance of having diversity in the studies. “Once they explained to me the benefits, I said I may be able to help them with a platform to discuss these things for people in our community.”
Branche, who also is an assistant professor in infectious diseases at URMC, acknowledged that Black and brown communities don’t always trust the medical establishment. “We don’t go to their communities, we don’t engage with them the way we need to.”
She said people have told her it will be hard to recruit minorities for studies unless “the person bringing the message is Black or brown. We heard the message. It’s well received.”
She said the Greek organizations are good groups to help share information because they are trusted leaders in their community.
Branche said each researcher will make a brief introduction and then take questions.
“I’m excited to see how people will respond, if it turns out to be something we can continue to do,” she said.