Johnson & Johnson applies for WHO authorization that could make its vaccine available in 190+ countries

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People of color have been vastly underrepresented in US-based vaccine trials for the last decade, according to a new study released Friday by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Harvard, Emory and other institutions.

The study, which examined data from 230 vaccine trials with nearly 220,00 participants, found that White people made up the majority, or 78%, of participants in trials conducted between June 2011 and June 2020.

Black people, however, accounted for 11% of participants, Hispanics made up 12%, and American Indians/Alaska Natives represented 0.4%.

The study, published in the JAMA Network Open, comes as the nation grapples with a Covid-19 pandemic that has disproportionately impacted people of color. Health care leaders are working to combat vaccine distrust among Black and brown people, saying the shot is the key to preventing further devastating in their communities. 

Black and Latino Americans are dying of Covid-19 at three times the rate of White people and being hospitalized at a rate four times higher, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers are now advocating for increased diversity in vaccine trials saying it will help address vaccine hesitancy, counter safety concerns and educate communities of color. They also note that many vaccine trials failed to fully report demographic information on participants.

“This collaborative work highlights a problem that’s plagued the scientific community for too long — inadequate representation in clinical trials,” said Dr. Steve Pergam, an associate professor in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “The diversity seen in Covid-19 vaccine trials demonstrate we can do this, but we need to assure future studies focus not just on rapid enrollment but also on inclusion.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN last year that he wanted to see people of color enrolled in Covid-19 vaccine trials at double their percentage of the population because their communities were hit hard by the pandemic. The US is 12% Black and 18% Latino.

But last summer, researchers said they were struggling to recruit people of color for Covid-19 vaccine trials. For example, in August, Black and Latino people made up only 10% of the 350,000 people who had signed up for a coronavirus clinical trial.

Moderna made efforts to increase the number of people of color in its vaccine trials, but the company didn’t meet the levels Fauci suggested.

Black leaders say many Black Americans refused to sign up for trials because they don’t want be “guinea pigs” for vaccine trials because of the nation’s history of racism in medical research. They cited the Tuskegee experiments from 1932-1972 that recruited 600 Black men — 399 who had syphilis and 201 who did not — and tracked the disease’s progression by not treating the men as they died or suffered severe health issues.