The speed in which a COVID-19 vaccine is found and made available has been of concern for many African Americans who are already wary of such things.
The “race for a cure” is highly politicized, becoming a factor in the U.S. presidential race. Even before he reportedly got the virus himself, President Donald Trump vowed to have a vaccine out this month, prior to the November 3 general election.
“We only have about three months of data,” shared Mark Lacy, CEO of Benchmark Research, which is currently conducting at least seven vaccine trials.
Last week, the FDA released new guidelines for emergency-use authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine that make it unlikely for drug makers to receive approval before next month’s election.
“As long standing members of the clinical trial research community, we are beholden to the science and the safety protocols,” Lacy said. “Politics aside, the FDA has publicly made clear that they will only approve a vaccine that data has shown to be safe and effective. Even with emergency-use authorization of vaccines as were used for the H1N1 and Zika outbreaks, the public can rest assured that any vaccine made available will meet the same high standards,” he continued.
It took scientists three or four years to have an ebola vaccine. The research behind it took much longer in fact, Lacy said.
Benchmark was a part of those trials as well.
“The normal vaccine process is approximately a decade process and now they’re trying to make that very different with coronavirus and get something within a year, so that’s a very big hurdle to overcome, but they are doing a really good job and making sure that it’s safe and all of that sort of thing,” Lacy said.
“Even though it took a lot longer for ebola, we’re living in a different world now so we have to find a cure for the coronavirus, so they’re changing up a few things that they could have really changed years ago because we don’t need as much data as they normally used to think they needed.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom launched a Scientific Review Workgroup last week consisting of 11 top health experts who will independently review any FDA-approved vaccine.
“Of course we don’t take anyone’s word for it,” Newsom said.
The group, he says, represents a “diversity of expertise” and health equity is among their top priorities.
“Cultural competency. That’s a big part of our commitment in the state of California, the proper distribution of resources, particularly as it relates to vaccines and focusing on immunizations,” the governor said.
Newsom points to two pharmaceutical companies, Miderna and Psifer, who have made “audacious” assertions that they can have a vaccine ready by November or December. He cautions that even if a vaccine is readied, to start it will only be available in limited supply to a limited number of people. The list includes health care workers, first responders and those at high-risk of getting COVID-19. Individuals who are age 65 or older and live in long term care facilities are considered high risk, as are African Americans and other ethnic minorities, who have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.
Sacramento County Public Health Officer, Dr. Olivia Kasirye says local officials are preparing for the vaccine roll out, whenever it happens.
“We’re definitely working on our plans,” Dr. Kasirye shared.
“Some of the answers will come up as we know more about the vaccines, for example when it will come, how much of it, whether it will take one dose or two doses. Those are all important factors that we will need to consider,” she said.
How much of the vaccine Sacramento County receives will also steer prioritization of who is vaccinated first.
While African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, many still look at studies and any possible mass injection with suspicion. Some believe they’ll be injected “with something” and get sick.
It’s not just sci-fiction films and TV shows like “I Am Legend” and “The Walking Dead” that evoke fear. History has given the Black community cause to pause, notably the Tuskegee Study where Black men from 1930s-1970s thought they were being treated for ailments including syphilis, but were never given a cure, but instead were studied by researchers.
Researchers and drug companies still make millions of dollars thanks to Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose cells were harvested in the 1950s without her knowledge or consent.
Both Lacy and Dr. Kasirye say that education and sharing how vaccines really work, is the best way to allay concerns.
“All we can do is be honest,” Lacy shared. “Be there to answer questions and suggest places for them to (get information.)”
Dr. Kasirye said once the vaccine is administered, County contact tracers will follow up.
“In general what we do for vaccines right now, for some of them actually, if a person is vaccinated, they may need to be observed for a period of time to make sure they’re doing OK, so that might be a part of what we need to put in our plans.
“The other, of course, is having the contact info for the individuals who are getting the vaccinations so that if we need to contact them for any reason that we are able to do so and then also providing them with what we call a vaccine information sheet. That gives them information about what vaccination they are receiving and how they can expect adverse effects, however mild they might be, especially since this is going to be a new vaccine. I think there will be a lot of interest in making sure that we track that,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read the first part of Senior Staff Writer Genoa Barrow’s interview with Benchmark CEO Mark Lacy, visit www.SacObserver.com.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer