Joe Ricks, Ph.D. Chair, Division of Business Xavier University of Louisiana
Recently there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the importance of science and its benefits, particularly in medicine due to COVID-19. At this time in our history I think it is critically important that we understand the process that leads to scientific breakthroughs in medicine and our role in it. Scientists are currently working on a vaccine for COVID-19. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our communities’ economy, schools, families, as well as our individual mental health. According to the New Orleans Business Alliance Economic Dashboard the city will lose an estimated 81.2 million dollars in tax revenue and in food service alone we will lose 12,000 jobs due to COVID-19. The total cost of COVID is significant on multiple fronts and these effects are disproportionately felt in African American communities. Therefore, it is critical that any new vaccine is safe and effective for African Americans. However, this won’t happen without our participation in the scientific process.
Human trials for a vaccine go through three phases. At a very high level the three phases can be described as: phase I – the first administration of a vaccine candidate to humans primarily to evaluate its safety. Phase II – assess the impact of demographic and other variables on immune response to identify the vaccine preparation, optimal dose, and schedule. Phase III – evaluates the efficacy and safety of the vaccine candidate on a large population. The important point here is that everything learned about the vaccine is based on the data that is gathered during these studies and if we are not a part of the data set any possible adjustments in preparation, dose, or schedule needed for the efficacy and safety for African Americans will be unknown. The more African Americans participate in the scientific process the more our communities will benefit.
We have a real opportunity to reduce some of the well-known health outcome disparities in our communities by making sure we are a part of the data used to develop a vaccine for a virus that’s devastating our communities. I know of the distrust of clinical trials that runs through our community and some of the historical reasons behind that distrust, but can we really afford to continue to allow vaccines and other treatments to be developed without being a part of the process to understand the efficacy and safety for our people? Recently the presidents of Xavier and Dillard Universities publicly disclosed their decision to volunteer for the phase three trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. After consultation with my doctor and my wife I have joined them in volunteering and challenge others in the African American community to consider doing the same. When it comes to science, being part of the process is necessary to benefit from the progress. If you would like more information regarding this particular trial, go to coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org.