Sun | Oct 25, 2020

Push underway to test COVID-19 vaccines in diverse groups

Published:Friday | September 18, 2020 | 11:56 AM
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine phlebotomist Mayra Fernandez takes a blood sample from study participant Julio Li, Wednesday, September 2, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Taimy Alvarez)

TAKOMA PARK, Maryland (AP) — In front of baskets of tomatoes and peppers, near a sizzling burrito grill, the “promotoras” stop masked shoppers at a busy Latino farmers market: Want to test a COVID-19 vaccine?

Aided by Spanish-speaking “health promoters” and Black pastors, a stepped-up effort is underway around the US to recruit minorities to ensure potential vaccines against the scourge are tested in the populations most ravaged by the virus.

Many thousands of volunteers from minority groups are needed for huge clinical trials underway or about to begin.

Scientists say a diverse group of test subjects is vital to determining whether a vaccine is safe and effective for everyone and instilling broad public confidence in the shots once they become available.

The expanded outreach by vaccine researchers and health officials is getting a late start in communities that, because of a history of scientific exploitation and racism, may be the most reluctant to roll up their sleeves.

Just getting the word out takes time.

“I didn’t know anything about the vaccine until now,” said Ingrid Guerra, who signed up last week at the farmers market in Takoma Park, Maryland, outside the nation’s capital.

The health promoters from CASA, a Hispanic advocacy group, explained how the research process works and how a vaccine could help end the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not afraid,” Guerra decided.

“I want to participate for me, my family, my people.”

University of Maryland researchers agreed to set up a temporary lab at CASA’s local community center so that people struggling financially wouldn’t have to travel to participate.

The hardest part, many experts say, is gaining trust.

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