On December 8th, 2020, The Black Coalition Against Covid (BCAC), the Health Alliance Network, Howard University, BlackDoctor.org and others sponsored a national community conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Black Community (“Making It Plain – A Conversation with Dr. Fauci and the Black Community”).
Seen by over 350,000 people nationwide, I was honored to represent the Black community for this important conversation. Dr. Wayne Frederick, President of Howard University, moderated the discussion. Dr. Anthony Fauci is world renowned as the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health. The following are excerpts from our exchange:
Ambrose Lane Jr. (A.L.): We welcome you, Dr. Fauci, how are you?
Dr. Anthony Fauci (Dr. F.): “Very well Mr. Lane. It is a pleasure to be with you, and I look forward to the dialogue and discussion. The comments from Dr. Frederick also ring true for those of us deeply involved in addressing this Covid 19 challenge…the painful disparity in incidence and prevalence among African Americans and people of color, and the disproportionate burden of disease reflected in increased hospitalizations that are four times the amount per 100,000 for African Americans as compared to other populations, and at least twice as many deaths that relate to factors that I hope we get a chance to discuss tonight, so that we could learn from you.”
A.L.: “A recent PEW poll and other polls (like that from BlackDoctor.org) have indicated a reluctance by the Black community to participate in vaccine trials or take the vaccine once available. The immediate question is around mistrust—mistrust of the State, mistrust of white people, mistrust of the medical community, and so on. You generally hear of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and Henrietta Lacks, but it is rooted much deeper. From slavery to Jim Crow, to the targeting of Black leaders in the 60’s, to police brutality, uneven court justice, to Black Lives Matter, and now to the disproportionate impact of Covid on our community. At the same time, there is recognition of Black progress in society at all levels, including education, business and science.
Because of this, the polls show an almost even split between who will and who will not take the vaccine. My question is: Why should Black People trust this process?
Dr.F.: “Ambrose, I think that those of us who are trying to convince our African American brothers and sisters to take a vaccine that is ultimately to the benefit to the life and safety of the individual, families and entire community, should appreciate understanding the reasons for the mistrust as opposed to pushing back against the mistrust…. There are two major issues: Pointing out that the speed in which this [vaccine] was created, has nothing to do with compromising the safety and scientific integrity…it is due to the extraordinary advances in vaccine platform technology allowing us to do things in weeks and months that formerly took us years to achieve…. The second, the decision that determines if a vaccine is truly safe and effective, is NOT made by the [pharmaceutical] company directly. The data first comes to an independent data and safety monitoring board, made up of experienced clinicians, scientists, vaccinologists, statisticians, and ethicists. They look at the data and independently determine if it is safe and effective. Experienced career scientists, not politicians, at the FDA, then look at the data, and when the FDA’s own committee–the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee–when they say that the vaccine is safe and effective, I will tell you all that I will be comfortable taking the vaccine myself and recommend it to my family.”
A.L.: “As I mentioned earlier, there have been advances in society, and as I understand it, the independent monitoring board you mentioned, has Black scientists on it. In fact, another Black scientist works with you directly. Times have changed and the involvement of African Americans in this process is much deeper than we have known. How important is it that we highlight the input of Black scientists to break down fear and trepidation regarding the vaccine?”
Dr. F.: “The example that you gave, Ambrose, is an excellent one. The very vaccine that is one of the two, that has 94-95% efficacy against clinical disease, shown to be clearly safe, was developed in my Institute’s research center by a team that included Dr. K. Corbett, a Black woman scientist at the forefront of the development of the vaccine. So you may want to say to my African American brothers and sisters, that a black woman helped develop the vaccine you are about to take.
Ambrose Lane Jr. is Chair of the Health Alliance Network. See the full interview at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=399656351349690&ref=watch_permalink