Naba’a Muhammad and Charlene Muhammad Final Call Staffers @TheFinalCall
Companies involved in Covid-19 vaccines and federal authorities bankrolling the research are running into a problem. Despite ads for the BET cable network, ads in some Black newspapers, Black surrogates saying the vaccine and trials will be safe, much of Black America isn’t drinking the Kool-Aid.
They see Coivid-19 as serious, know it impacts their community in deadly ways but aren’t buying what the Trump administration and its partners are selling—though the sales pitch is far from over. Billions have been sunk into a Covid-19 vaccine, with the president pushing for a reelection miracle by early November, and public opinion polls show millions saying, “We don’t want your vaccine. We won’t be your guinea pigs.”
The presidents at respected Black medical schools Xavier University and Dillard University received a quick and hard clap back after sending out a letter calling for students and alumni to join ongoing Covid-19 vaccine trials.
The Black Church Political Action Committee demanded that the presidents of Dillard University and Xavier University of the Louisiana HBCUs “refrain … trials.” refrain from offering their students up as guinea pigs for controversial and untested coronavirus vaccine trials.”
“As faith leaders, the Black Church PAC believes in an abundance of caution and shun a rush of widespread participation in vaccines, knowing the history of faulty science related to Black communities when it comes to vaccines,” Pastor Michael McBride, a co-founder of the group, told The Final Call.
The Black Church PAC is part of the Biotech Commission, which includes other HBCU presidents. The Black Church PAC argues rather than acting in isolation, Blacks need to have a unified front with third party independent verifiers from Black communities, trusted voices, bioethicists and scientists to ensure any vaccine is safe.
Its leaders don’t trust the current process, the Trump administration and the way the Centers for Disease Control and scientists have been caught up in Covid-19 politics.
“We are actually now in conversation. The (college) presidents have reached out to us and so we will likely be having a conversation with them in the week to come with the Bioethics Commission and attempt to try and bring some, some dialogue and hopefully prevail upon them to take different steps in order to make sure we have some precautions in place,” said Pastor McBride in a Sept. 11 interview with The Final Call.
“We don’t want any Black person to be used as a guinea pig, including the presidents, including Black inmates in prisons and jails, including folks in the South, the Midwest, the West Coast and the East Coast,” the pastor added.
Some vaccination trials are on pause now due to complications, he noted.
Pastor McBride said he’s not anti-Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s front man on vaccine trials.
But it’s important to include Black bioethicists, not only Black civil rights leaders. Science is not something that a preacher, or a civil rights leader has mastered, said Pastor McBride.
“Fauci needs to talk to his equivalent,” he added. “He needs to talk to his equivalent in the field, I think. So I don’t have any problem with Dr. Fauci including Black leaders as long as some of the leaders in the room are scientific leaders. Invite Dr. (Reuben) Warren from the Tuskegee Airmen Bioethics Center. Invite other Black bioethicists and others who are not part of the politicized CDC and federal government that we know has misled the public.”
He added, “You can’t deny it. Donald Trump said it himself that he downplays the virus. Now, I mean, them words came out his own mouth, and so no one should be under the illusion that all of a sudden everybody’s going to have honest streaks.
“I think many of these, medical professionals have been working in an administration that is wicked, that lacks a moral compass, and so even their best efforts are overcome and neutralized by the wickedness of this leader.”
The Trump administration and companies involved in vaccine trials have been screaming about their desire to recruit Black participants. The latest news, which had the president on tape telling author Bob Woodward, he knew Covid-19 was serious and deadly hasn’t helped. Mr. Woodward was conducting the interviews for his new book, “Rage.” While the president was telling the prize-winning journalist Covid-19 was serious, the president was publicly downplaying the threat. Mr. Trump said he didn’t want to panic the public, which few believe.
A poll published Sept. 10 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 62 percent of respondents worried a vaccine would be rushed under pressure from the Republican-controlled Congress. In addition, they feel skepticism has come from different places, including Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who said she would not trust President Trump or take his word on the coronavirus.
Still Sept. 11, an opinion piece was published in the New York Times by Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University; Valerie Montgomery Rice, president of Morehouse School of Medicine; David M. Carlisle, president of Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science; and James E. K. Hildreth, president of Meharry Medical College. It called for more recruitment of Blacks for vaccine trials.
“To date, several companies have reached Phase 3 trials for an experimental vaccine—including Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and CanSino. AstraZeneca recently announced a pause in its process to check a complication with one participant. Despite this setback, the early results are encouraging,” said the college presidents.
“Drugmakers approved for Phase 3 trials have been slow to report the breakdown of participants. But Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN that Moderna deserved a C for recruiting minorities. As of Sept. 4, Moderna reported 26 percent of study participants from communities of color, including Black or African-American, Latinx, American Indian and Alaskan Native,” they said.
Blacks are typically underrepresented in studies and the history of medical abuses against Blacks, like the Tuskegee Experiment—in which Black men were allowed to suffer untreated syphilis and didn’t know it in a U.S. Public Health study, make recruitment difficult, they admitted. But Blacks need to participate now and the vaccine companies and federal government needs to help make that happen, argued the college presidents.
“On the treatment front, a vaccine with limited testing could have unanticipated effects on Black bodies. As with all drug trials, the impact of medication can differ significantly, depending on the genetic makeup of the population. This is even more so with vaccines that depend on altering the immune system. It is therefore vital that the trials, which usually hold about 30,000 participants, include as diverse a set of participants as possible,” they said.
In recent weeks Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and others, including Dr. Francis Collins, National Institutes of Health director and Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield, have been asking national Black political, health, educational, and press organizations to help enroll Blacks in clinical trials.
Virtual town hall meetings or interviews have been had with the Congressional Black Caucus and National Medical Association, the Black AIDS Institute, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (Black Press USA), Rainbow PUSH, as well as a private meeting with the National Urban League.
The NAACP, Black Caucus nor CBC Chair Karen Bass responded to Final Call requests for interviews.
According to Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, no money is being doled out in exchange for supporting Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials.
That would be immoral, he said, adding he would ask any college president that did so to step down.
The idea simply was to make people aware of efforts and potential participation, but students weren’t targeted or pushed, he said.
But, he added, “We’re not boycotting McDonald’s. We’re not boycotting Popeye’s, and we put those poisons in our bodies deliberately … We gotta do better, too.”
Dr. Donald Alcendor, an infectious disease specialist at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, was tasked in April with developing an anti-viral specific for Covid-19.
Meharry is working on recruitment for trials for two of the three vaccines being developed, and anticipates one, Novavax, will start Oct. 1, and the other, Sanofi, just recently approached the school, according to Dr. Rajbir Singh, interim director of Meharry’s Clinical and Translational Research Center.
According to Dr. Alcendor, only 21 percent of people in the U.S. said they’d be willing to take a vaccine if proven safe. Dr. Alcendor said he’s sat on the Food and Drug Administration’s Anti-Viral Drugs Advisory Committee.
He doesn’t believe an unsafe vaccine would slip by and said the committee is not appointed by the president.
But the Anti-Viral Drugs Advisory Committee was terminated in 2015 and replaced with the Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee. It’s 13 core voting members are supposed to be knowledgeable in infectious disease, internal medicine, microbiology, pediatrics, epidemiology or statistics, and related specialties. They are selected by the FDA commissioner, who was appointed by President Trump.
The committee is supposed to review and evaluate data concerning the safety and effectiveness of drugs the treatment of infectious diseases and disorders and make recommendations, and they report to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn.
“It is very clear, looking at the commentary and the exchange between the (Trump) administration, the FDA and the CDC, that these bodies that basically have earned public trust in the past have struggled lately of being independent,” admitted Dr. Alcendor.
“And what I’m saying is that if the FDA and the CDC have been compromised in a way to where the administration has their thumb on the scale in terms of, I would say, guiding policy associated with a vaccine or with volunteers or when a vaccine will be ready, I think that cannot stand. I think the public should be on alert,” he said. “And I think there should be protests concerning the FDA and the CDC being compromised.”
“Guidelines the CDC put in place, being altered almost overnight to suggest that only people that have symptomatic disease be the only people that be tested, I don’t care if you are a student in virology or infectious disease, you know that goes against many of the fundamental principles of infectious disease,” added Dr. Alcendor.
To only test those symptomatic for a disease transmitted in people who are asymptomatic means the latter will only spread it more rapidly, so not to include them in testing protocols is irresponsible, he said.
C.K. Hoffler, president of the National Bar Association, which includes Black lawyers and judges, favors the best medical treatments for the disease, including global treatments, such as Cuba’s alpha interferon therapies.
“There should have been a plan to attack Covid early on, before 190,000 people in this country died,” she said. Those are just the reported numbers, she argued, saying she’s aware of cases not documented as covid-related deaths by medical examiners.
“I don’t believe that our community should be pressured into trials. I believe that is a personal choice. We have been pressured into trials our entire lives. When we came over as slaves, we were pressured into being free labor. That’s a trial,” said Atty. Hoffler.
“If that is someone’s will, and it’s well informed and they want to do that, that’s their prerogative,” Atty. Hoffler continued.
The bottom line is to protect citizens from the deadly disease, but not target or pressure the community into trials, she said.
She believes that Blacks must galvanize their resources to protect themselves.
“Right about now, Dr. Fauci, who was on TV saying all the things about this, he really, to me, has never had the credibility. But certainly doesn’t now, because what they were telling the American public about Covid is different from the information that was known by the administration,” said Atty. Hoffler.
“We are superb doctors, researchers, epidemiologists in our community. They may not be on TV every day as others, but we know them in our community, and that’s why I focus on the National Medical Association,” she added.
The National Bar Association has partnered with the National Medical Association of Black doctors to dismantle disinformation campaigns around Covid-19 as frontline health practitioners, according to Atty. Hoffler.
It is part of the Black legal minds’ attack against the “three pandemics”—police brutality, Covid-19, and election suppression, she said.
The National Medical Association’s position is that there should be health equity in treatment, testing, funding, and Black placement in top-tier federal positions of authority.
Dr. Leon McDougle, president of the National Medical Association, has called for a repair of breaches Blacks have experienced in health care, as well as swift increases in the diversity of clinical and public health researchers leading trials to reflect the community.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was pushing “Operation Warp Speed,” to accelerate delivery of 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for Covid-19 by January 2021.
There is 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.
“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 said.
Yaa Simpson, a Chicago-based community epidemiologist, agrees with the Minister’s call. Her organization is TACTS, The Association of Clinical Trial Services, and the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Agenda Consortium.
“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.
“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.
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,” she said.
According to Dr. Fauci, the hospitalization rate per 100,000 Blacks stands at 247, compared to 53 per 100,000 Whites.
Student Minister Ava Muhammad is National Spokesperson for Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. She argued key questions go to the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“And so, to say we should undergo these tests, why? Why would you lead our people to the slaughterhouse?”
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)