New ads encourage minorities to roll up their sleeves and participate in coronavirus vaccine trials

“When everything looks bleak, we know that someone somewhere is full of hope and strength and wants to take action,” says one ad, showing a series of Black people. “Walking the walk and rolling their sleeves to go to normal sooner.”

The ads shows Black and Latino people pointing to their upper arms, where an injection would be given, and then a nurse appears to roll down a Black man’s sleeve after giving him a shot. The ad ends with the website, preventCOVID.org, where people can sign up to join a trial.

“Volunteer to find the Covid-19 vaccine. Help end the uncertainty,” the voice-over says.

Another ad shows a couple cooing in Spanish at a video of their newborn grandson.

The couple’s daughter looks into the camera.

“I wonder when they’re going to get to see him,” she says in Spanish.

The vaccine trials — there are three underway in the United States — need more minorities to sign up. Dr. Larry Corey, who runs the group that put out the ads, said he knows the ads won’t instantly increase enrollment, but he hopes they help.

“Not everybody is thinking about how they could play a role in ending the pandemic,” said Corey, who is leading the Covid-19 Prevention Network. “The point of any advertising is to reveal options, to reveal choices.”

Researchers need minority participation for two reasons: medicines can affect diverse populations differently, and to succeed quickly, trials need people who are likely to encounter the virus.

The ads were developed by the Covid-19 Prevention Network, which is based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and two advertising agencies, Socialisssima and Sam Bonds Creative. The ads are scheduled to start airing Tuesday on major television networks as well as the BET network, the Oprah Winfrey Network, TV One, Telemundo, and Univision.

Why clinical trials are seeking minority volunteers

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has urged that about 37% of the volunteers in coronavirus vaccine clinical trials be Latino, and 27% be Black.

Enrollments so far have fallen far short of that.

Last week, 16% of Moderna’s new enrollments were Latino and 10% were Black. And as of August 31, 11% of Pfizer’s US trial volunteers were Latino and 8% were Black.

Researchers have two reasons for wanting to improve these numbers.

Vaccines and medicines can work differently in different racial and ethnic groups, so diversity in clinical trials is important.

Despite efforts, minority enrollment in existing trials has, so far, fallen short of stated goals. Experts hope ads like this one can spur participation.

Also, in order for the vaccine clinical trials to succeed, scientists have to recruit people who have a high likelihood of encountering the virus. Otherwise, the researchers will have to wait a longer time to know if the vaccine works or not.

Black people are 2.6 times more likely to get Covid-19 than White people, and Latinos are 2.8 times more likely to get Covid-19 than White people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ads are not enough

Pastor Ricky Temple, who leads a large Black church in Savannah, Georgia, said he found the ads “touching.”

“I think these are great. The pointing to the arm was a graceful invitation to participate that was inviting and personal,” he said of the ads, which include Black and Latino bus drivers, teachers, nurses, students, parents, and grandparents.

Ads like this one seek to increase minority enrollment in vaccine trials. Black people and Latinos are more likely to get exposed to the novel coronavirus, and also more likely to have a severe outcome.

Inspired by Dawn Baker, a Savannah television news anchor who in July became the first person to enroll in a Phase 3 coronavirus clinical trial in the US, Temple asked leaders in his church how they felt about encouraging members of the congregation to join the trials.

The answer was a resounding “no.”

“It was a response based in fear centered in a lack of trust, and it’s on my left, it’s on my right, it’s everywhere I turn,” Temple said.

Covid-19 vaccine trials have been slow to recruit Black and Latino people -- and that could delay a vaccine

The Black community has historically been hesitant to join clinical trials because of past abuses in medical trials and ongoing injustices in the healthcare system. Black study subjects were horrifically mistreated in the Tuskegee syphilis trials from 1932 until 1972, and Black people still face injustices and disparities in today’s medical system.

Temple said President Trump adds to that mistrust when he says a vaccine could be ready by Election Day, which experts say would be too quick and scientifically unsound.

Temple said the ads won’t change all of this, but they’re “a good start” towards building trust in medical research within the Black community.

“You chip away, you chip away, you chip away, and one day people won’t remember all the bad things that happened. Tuskegee will be way in the back somewhere and we’ll think those people are no longer with us and now there’s a new crew,” he said.

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