CIR and Community Leaders Collaborate to Foster COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Awareness

The CIR and local African American and Latinx community leaders are working together to ensure that these populations, which are at higher risk of COVID-19 related hospitalization and death, are well informed about the important role that licensed COVID-19 vaccines will play in reducing the spread of the virus.

These collaborations are intended to build a new chapter of trust between researchers and the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, open dialogues that allow community members to express concerns about COVID-19 vaccine development, motivate community members to receive the vaccines once they become available and ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines.

CIR researchers recognize vaccine hesitancy as a barrier to clinical trial recruitment and enrollment.  Mistrust of the scientific community as it relates to clinical trial participation dates back to the Tuskegee Syphilis Trial of 1932.  Since then, many safeguards (including a formalized informed consent process) have been implemented to avoid deceptive clinical trial practices, but many African Americans are still wary of participating in research.  At the recent virtual briefing with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform titled: Guardrails to Ensure a Safe and Effective COVID-19 Vaccine, CIR Director Dr. Ruth Karron said, “Building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines is critical, because the best vaccine in the world won’t work if it isn’t used. There are many partners in that process, but it begins here, by soliciting public engagement and developing public trust for the ways in which these vaccines are evaluated in clinical trials, and providing open, transparent, independent expert review and analysis of clinical trial data, to be included in the decision-making process for vaccine licensure or Emergency Use Authorization.”

To facilitate community engagement, CIR faculty and staff began reaching out to community leaders regarding ways that they can help lower infection rates as well as educate community members about COVID-19 and the importance of vaccine development.  As a result, faculty and staff have assisted at COVID-19 testing sites in Baltimore, including those held at local mainly Latinx churches.  Additional collaborations with CASA de Maryland and leaders within the African American faith community are in developmental stages.  Achieving meaningful community-based relationships is critical to ensuring that community members are comfortable participating in Phase III trials so that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available as soon as possible.  In a recent article, Dr. Karron states, “This is a time for optimism, however we won’t know if these vaccines are truly safe and effective until we have data from Phase III trials.”  CIR faculty member Dr. Kawsar Talaat adds that while there is reason for optimism…it’s not until the Phase III trials…that it becomes clear if a vaccine can be used among the wider public.  CIR faculty member Dr. Anna Durbin reminds us of the importance of equitable vaccine distribution throughout.  She states, “Ensuring vaccine access to these communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus must also be a priority…there has historically been inequities in health care access for these communities.”

The Center is slated to enroll volunteers for COVID-19 related vaccine research trials this summer and fall.

Click here for Dr. Karron’s full testimony

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