This time, it will be different

Overcoming medical mistrust

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 1/6/21

Medicine’s history with Black people is fraught.

In the past, enslaved women were used for OB-GYN experiments without anesthesia. Men were infected with syphilis to see what would happen …

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This time, it will be different

Overcoming medical mistrust

Posted

Medicine’s history with Black people is fraught.

In the past, enslaved women were used for OB-GYN experiments without anesthesia. Men were infected with syphilis to see what would happen when the disease wasn’t treated; the men were told they were receiving free government treatment for “bad blood.” In fact, they weren’t treated at all.

“The number one concern is that there’s a legacy of distrust with regards to medical research,” said Dr. Leon McDougle, president of the National Medical Association (NMA). The NMA is the oldest professional association of Black doctors, and it is a fierce advocate for parity and justice in medicine.

The distrust, understandably, dates back to the horrors of the past. This history has led to “great concern in the NMA about some of the political influence that has seemed to have created a cloud,” he said. That cloud “has led to increased mistrust [within] the Black community.”

So how to reassure people that history is not repeating itself?

First, show that Black and Brown experts support the vaccine, said Dr. McDougle. Black medical groups, such as the NMA and the National Pharmaceutical Association, need to be involved. Black infectious disease experts, Black doctors and nurses. “As trusted messengers in the community,” he said, “we wanted to speak to the community.” It would give confidence in the findings.

Address concerns from these communities. “Are there precautions that people with sickle cell anemia or sickle cell traits should have with receiving the vaccine?”

“We need to build coalitions and invite Black people in the process,” he said. Critically, Black and Brown people need to be involved in oversight.

It’s also important to work with the clergy, work with places of worship.

Make sure that non-white people are represented in clinical trials. “Moderna paused its enrollment to make sure that 10 percent of its participants were Black,” Dr. McDougle said. “Pfizer placed emphasis on diversity from the beginning.” That’s 3,000 (out of 30,000) people for Moderna and 4,400 (out of 44,000) people for Pfizer. “That,” he said, “gives greater confidence.”

What message, asked moderator Al Tompkins, would resonate?

“We’ve already done it,” said Dr. McDougle.

It’s called “A Love Letter to Black America from America’s Black Doctors and Nurses.” A project of the Black Coalition Against COVID, it’s a coalition of Black universities like Howard University, the Morehouse School of Medicine and more. Groups like the NMA and the National Black Nurses Association. Black doctors and nurses are talking to the Black community about the importance and safety of the vaccine.

We need to build a coalition, Dr. McDougle said, “and involve Black people in the process.”

The Love Letter is available at www.blackcoalitionagainstcovid.org/loveletter.

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