Minority communities in the United States have been the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but questions remain about whether they will have the greatest access to a potential vaccine, two vaccine experts said Friday.
Another question: whether minorities trust the government enough to participate in the crucial trials needed to develop a vaccine, Dr. John Mascola, the director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Friday at a town hall on Covid-19 vaccines.
“As we think about how to test the vaccines and find out if they work … the question is can we make enough so that we can make it available to large parts of the population, and can it be accessible and can it be affordable,” Mascola said.
Some context: When the US government is involved, as it is with the development of a coronavirus vaccine, there are a number of agencies that will make decisions during the development process. For example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the recommendations on who gets it, Mascola said.
“But there are built in provisions already that when the US government is involved in a substantial part of the funding for the effort, as it is here that in the United States, that vaccine will be available to the US government for distribution,” he said.
Since the government is helping fund the development of a coronavirus vaccine, that should help make it affordable, Mascola said.
But before that can even happen, clinical trials involving thousands of people are needed to help decide if a vaccine candidate is effective.
“We are working with HHS and predictive analytics to be able to track where the virus is to match that with where we do the vaccination campaigns, and also to make sure that we enroll the populations that are at highest risk,” said Dr. Larry Corey, a leading expert in virology, immunology and vaccine development and a member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s vaccine and infectious disease division.
As national protests over police brutality and the US judicial system continue into a second week, vaccine developers may have a harder time convincing people of color to participate in the trials. “And frankly, this is one of the new worries,” Corey told the town hall.
“Our underserved populations are Black and Hispanic populations. We are going in as a US government organization and whether events these last couple of few weeks are going to affect our ability to establish medical trust through the kinds of things that we need to do with community outreach, that becomes really a central issue for us to be able to enroll the people who have been most affected by Covid-19,” he said.
“It is showing the health disparities in our country,” Corey said.