Clinical Trials and Distrust in Black Communities

Hey everyone! This week I wanted to talk about vaccines, clinical trials and mistrust within the Black community. With the COVID-19 still very present in the United States, a vaccine could be the only way to eradicate it.

Why Diversify Study Participants? 

First of all, when it comes to clinical trials, it is important to have a broad representation of participants in order to accurately account for variations in pathophysiology and response to treatment.

There are many cities that have already been approved to host clinical trials. The problem is that they don’t have enough Black participants. Let’s talk about why that may be.


                 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment 

Historically, many African Americans have been apprehensive about volunteering for clinical trials. This largely stems from the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment This experiment exploited, harmed and even killed Black men in Alabama unnecessarily and failed to actually treat any of them even though treatment for syphilis was available at the time in 1932. Penicillin was discovered in 1928 and was used to treat many illnesses including syphilis. The U.S. Public Health Service unethically funded the study for over 40 years. It’s actually the reason that IRB or the Institutional Review Board exists today. IRB is now a process that all researchers must go through to vet their research studies (that intend to use human subjects) to ensure that the studies are ethical and consensual. 

(Learn more about IRB: 


Henrietta Lacks and Her Immortal Cells 

In 1951 an African American woman by the name of Henrietta Lacks had her cervical cells taken from her and used for clinical study without her consent. She presented to Johns Hopkins with pain and she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Doctors at the hospital biopsies her cervix to study the cells and it turns out, they are immortal. Her cells now known as HeLa Cells have been used to create the polio vaccine, advanced gene mapping and in vitro fertilization ( Read more about this amazing woman here: 

These are just a few examples of Black human subjects being used as guinea pigs to advance medicine. It’s no wonder that many Black people don’t feel like they can 100% trust medical professionals.
I highly encourage you to read a book called Medical Apartheid which goes even deeper into the use of Black bodies as unethical human subjects in the U.S. In my opinion this book should be required reading for every student going into any health profession. Unfortunately the United States has a pretty dark history of this. 
What can we do to correct this? Has the damage already been done? How can medical professionals and the system at large gain the trust of Black Americans?

Learn about COVID-19 clinical trials here:

More about Tuskegee:

 More about Henrietta Lacks:

Henrietta Lacks Foundation: 

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