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Moderna vaccine trials slowed by insufficient minority participants: report

Moderna vaccine trials slowed by insufficient minority participants: report
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Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trials have been slowed after contractors did not recruit enough minority participants to determine how the product will affect different demographics, Reuters reported Tuesday

Moderna executives and vaccine researchers told Reuters that the Moderna-hired private contractors did not enroll enough Black, Latino and Native American participants, leading the company to slow enrollment to address the problem. 

The company has directed research centers to prioritize recruitment of minority volunteers, and academic researchers who have established relationships within the communities are leading the effort.  

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Five investigators working on the Moderna vaccine trial told Reuters that the partner commercial sites quickly filled recruitment quotas for the 30,000-person trial with mostly white participants. 

As of Sept. 17, Black Americans made up 7 percent of trial participants, even though they make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. In the last two weeks of September, the company said it boosted Black participation but declined to give details to Reuters. 

The lack of diversity proves problematic as COVID-19 has been found to infect Black Americans almost three times more than white Americans, and Black Americans are twice as likely to die from the coronavirus, Reuters reported, citing multiple studies. 

Moderna intended to gather a group of racially diverse volunteers, but the outcome was mixed, Chief Executive Stephane Bancel told Reuters. He said recruitment has been stalled at specific sites that have struggled to obtain a diverse sample. 

The company’s website lists at least 17 trial sites as active but not recruiting without indicating why. 

Academic centers run a quarter of the 100 trial sites while commercial subcontractors manage the others. Moderna hired PPD, a contract research organization, to supervise the sites. Two of the commercial companies reported receiving an overwhelming interest in participation from white volunteers.

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Moderna did not immediately return a request for comment. 

Moderna’s vaccine is among the furthest developed, with the company getting more than $1 billion in government funding for its product and $1.5 billion for future distribution.

Americans of color, in particular African American communities, have developed a distrust of the medical industry after a long history of discrimination and being used as subjects for experiments without their consent. 

In the Tuskegee experiments, Black Americans were denied treatment for syphilis even after penicillin became available. In addition, Native Americans have been forced to undergo sterilization treatments and have also been used as subjects to test new drugs. 

A Pew Research Center survey from last month determined only 32 percent of Black adults said they would definitely or probably get a coronavirus vaccine. Meanwhile, 52 percent of white adults, 56 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of Asian Americans agreed.

Bancel told Reuters that the delays will not prevent Moderna from requesting emergency use authorization. The company could obtain an emergency use authorization to treat high-risk groups like health care workers as early as November, Reuters noted.