Amid tens of thousands of new Covid-19 cases reported daily in the United States, the fever pitch to get a vaccine on the market in a fraction of the time it normally takes is pressing forward.
This, despite a lack of participation in clinical trials from Blacks, who second only to health workers, have been targeted for a vaccine by national health agencies. There is also an effort underway to get Black groups to co-sign the drive for the vaccine with top officials speaking to Black groups and organizations.
U.S. voters are skeptical when it comes to a potential Covid-19 vaccine and say that one made available this year would be rushed, at least according to a recent CBS poll on the matter. “Just 21% of voters nationwide now say they would get a vaccine as soon as possible if one became available at no cost, down from 32% in late July. Most would consider it but would wait to see what happens to others before getting one,” noted cbsnews.com. When asked what their first thought would be if a vaccine was made available this year 35 percent of those surveyed said it would be a scientific achievement but 65 percent said their first thought would be that it was “rushed through.”
The survey conducted between Sep. 2 – 4 on behalf of CBS News by YouGov was based on a representative sample of nearly 2,500 registered voters. How Democrats and Republicans viewed coronavirus vaccine developments differed. Of the 65 percent that responded their first thought would be that a vaccine made available this year was “rushed through” 77 percent who felt this way were Democrats compared to only 48 percent Republican survey respondents. Among White Democrats, the poll revealed Whites were more than twice as likely as Blacks in the party to say they would be willing get a vaccine as soon as one was made available.
President Donald Trump has insisted a new vaccine could be ready before or around Nov. 3 elections. There is fear the president could pressure federal agencies and vaccine makers to meet his desired deadline. It would increase his chances of reelection.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had been working through an initiative, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” to accelerate delivery of 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for Covid-19 by January 2021.
But that is apparently too short a time for the president. One Black expert said completion of a safe vaccine typically takes 10 years to 15 years. Others have said it takes at least four years—that it is almost unheard of that a safe vaccine is produced in nine months.
The H1N1 vaccine was developed in 2009 over about a nine-month period from the discovery of that virus until a vaccine was made widely available to the public. But such expectation and turnaround time is rare. Federal officials insist vaccine safety and efficacy is not being compromised in a rush to produce a cure for Covid-19 and break its attendant lockdown. The trials are partnerships with federal dollars going to pharmaceutical companies to produce the vaccine. There is now talk that if the trials go well, the final phase of trials could be accelerated to allow for vaccine production—another departure from standard safety processes.
“Don’t take the vaccines. There are 14 therapies that are in the world today that we can use to fight against the covid virus,” said Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, in a July 4 address, “The Criterion,” from his Michigan home.
He warned Blacks in America and in Africa not to simply accept vaccines or treatments from those who have a history of medical malpractice and evil against Black people. He called for ending the Cuban embargo to allow Cuban treatments and doctors to get involved in saving U.S. lives and for convening Black experts to discuss and develop ways to protect Black people from harm.
Blacks have generally accounted for one-third of deaths from Covid-19, usually from pre-existing conditions like diabetes, obesity, asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure and other ailments that increase susceptibility to the coronavirus.
Minister Farrakhan also condemned attorney Alan Dershowitz, who has been a Trump ally at times, for arguing forced vaccinations could be lawful.
“So, Mr. Dershowitz, if you bring the vaccine and say you’re going to bring your army to force us to take it, once you try to force us, that’s a declaration of war on all of us. You only have this one life. Fight like hell to keep it, and fight like hell to destroy those whose heart and mind is to destroy you and take your life from you,” said Minister Farrakhan.
“I say to my brothers and sisters in Africa, if they come up with a vaccine be careful. Don’t let them vaccinate you with their history of treachery through vaccines, through medication,” he added.
“I say to the African presidents, do not take their medications. I say to those of us in America, we need to call a meeting of our skilled virologists, epidemiologists, students of biology and chemistry and we need to look at not only what they give us, we need to give ourselves something better.”
“He is 100. He called for the right actions,” said Yaa Simpson, a Chicago-based community epidemiologist. She spoke to The Final Call on behalf of her organization TACTS, The Association of Clinical Trial Services, and the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Agenda Consortium. The group had a Zoom discussion about Covid-19, Blacks and vaccines on Sept. 3.
“Six million people have covid. You’re trying to come up with a vaccine to prevent other millions of people from getting it, but six million from this year alone is going to grow,” she said.
The Black epidemiologist added, “I think that we can create good vaccines. I believe in the theory. Has that really happened? On some levels but not wholly.”
She was floored when she heard Minister Farrakhan’s call to action regarding Black doctors and epidemiologists.
TACTS hosted a virtual town hall with Black health experts and practitioners talking about what they should be doing to curb Covid-19 and improve overall Black health. Dr. Donald Alcindor of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., who developed a successful treatment for the Zika virus, participated. Meharry is participating in clinical trials for the covid vaccine.
“The reason I’m doing this is because I listened to the Minister’s speech on July 4. I was sitting in my bed, me and my son, watching it on his cell phone … I almost fell out the bed when he said epidemiologists,” Ms. Simpson said. “My husband and I started screaming, like ‘Minister, I’m here! What do you want me to do?’ ”
A vaccine is a preventative and everything being done to create one for Covid-19 is an experiment, said Ms. Simpson. “And more importantly, I am not against vaccines in the theory. I am against creating a covid vaccine before you create a better treatment. If you treat people with the virus, and they don’t spread it, you don’t have the national numbers like we have now, five million, almost six million people.”
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the hospitalization rate per 100,000 Blacks stands at 247, compared to 53 per 100,000 Whites.
“In other words, that’s almost five times the chance of getting hospitalized even though African Americans comprise just 13 percent of the (U.S.) population,” he said in a live-stream interview with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents 200 Black-owned weekly newspapers.
“It’s important (to note) that when (Min. Farrakhan) said, don’t take the vaccine he didn’t say it in a vacuum. It’s not as though we’re not offering a program for salvation. And the majority of medical and health professionals acknowledge that it’s not the covid virus alone when you look at the deaths. It’s always some other complication with it,” said Student Minister Ava Muhammad, National Spokesperson for Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Knowing the health challenges Blacks suffer, it’s known in the health and medical field that taking a new vaccine for coronavirus can be exceedingly dangerous, added Min. Muhammad, who is also a lawyer.
“The problem is that with Covid-19, most of the deaths from this virus, they’re not from the virus directly. They’re from the overreaction of the immune system, the inflammation. And to put it in layman’s terms, the body kills itself,” she said.
“Ninety percent of the American people have a compromised immune system and are unhealthy, to some degree. Because of how we live, how we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the stress that we’re under, the lack of exercise, the lack of exposure to sunshine and water and sand, and of course, disobedience to God’s law,” she continued.
During a virtual meeting with National Medical Association, a Black physicians group, and the Rainbow Push Coalition to discuss health equity, Robert Redfield, CDC director, urged Blacks not to give up their right to participate in clinical research. He admitted Aug. 8 that trust has to be rebuilt.
Dr. Redfield said federal government efforts to rebuild trust and increase health equity include outreach and funding to institutions like Morehouse School of Medicine, which has received a $40 million federal grant through the Department of Health and Human Services to help with outreach to lower infection rates in the Black community. Dr. Redfield said similar efforts are underway in the Latino community.
Another virtual session about Covid-19 and vaccines with Black medical professionals was held in collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Sept. 3, said Dr. Leon McDougle, president of the National Medical Association. He spoke favorably about the study and use of alpha interferon as a solution. Cuba has used alpha interferon to treat Covid-19 and also has clinical trials underway. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Dial Hewlett, Jr. of Bronxville, N.Y., talked about alpha interferon on the CBC foundation panel.
“I listened to the Minister on the Fourth of July, and that’s why I wanted us to speak to this during the Congressional Black Caucus foundation panel of experts,” said Dr. McDougle.
“What I will say, though, is don’t necessarily write off the vaccines, because the vaccines may be important, but they need to go through the proper process in regards to Phase 1, 2 or 3 trials,” Dr. McDougle told The Final Call.
Also, an Aug. 24 Covid-19 virtual town hall meeting featured Dr. Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health director, and was hosted by the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and National Medical Association. Dr. McDougle and Dr. Debra Furr-Holden called for health equity in treatment, testing, funding, and top-tier federal positions of authority.
National Institutes of Health director Collins announced a vaccine was on target to start immunizing people by early 2021. He expressed dismay at polls that indicate 30 percent of Americans and about 50 percent of Blacks and undeserved groups “don’t want that vaccine.”
Dr. McDougle argued for repairing breaches Blacks have experienced in health care, and quickly increasing the diversity of clinical and public health researchers leading trials to reflect those communities.
These changes can come quickly some professionals argued. Just like the National Institutes of Health is expediting a clinical trial from Phase 1 in 1.5 years to 63 days, said Dr. Furr-Holden.
CNN reported Sept. 4 that Blacks are just seven percent of trial volunteers and Moderna, which is making a vaccine, said it would slow down trials until more Blacks can be recruited. In order for the vaccine to be effective, a diverse pool of study participants is needed, said experts. Blacks are underrepresented overall in clinical trials and efforts are underway to recruit more non-White participants.
Min. Muhammad argued key questions go to the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccine. “Does it work? And what is being said to Black people is that we want to experiment on you to see whether or not it works,” she said.
“The way the U.S. government functions, and we know it’s corporate controlled, but the standard for vaccinations is that if a vaccine is 60 percent effective, then it gets the green light,” said Min. Muhammad.
She is also concerned that at some point, trial vaccines will be used on people with less healthy systems.
Blacks aren’t taking the vaccine, number one, because the so-called medical profession, as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said, ranks low globally, and has no record of keeping Blacks healthy, Min. Muhammad said.
“But what we do know is White America’s record, as the Minister stated in ‘The Criterion’ is of how they deal with Black people, and even their own people. Case in point, the polio vaccine, which contained cancer itself, and which pretty much didn’t eradicate, but it reduced polio, way down to where it’s maybe a handful of people every year. But it started an epidemic of cancer,” said Min. Muhammad.
The same medical profession that used Black men in the Tuskegee Experiment, where Black men with syphilis were denied treatment to study the effects of the disease for decades, is not offering any natural therapy, including access to fresh, healthy food, she said.
“And so to say we should undergo these tests, why? Why would you lead our people to the slaughterhouse?” she asked.
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)