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Black People Are More Hesitant About A Vaccine. A Leading Nurse Wants To Change That

Ernest Grant, the president of the American Nurses Association, is taking part in a Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial. He says he wants to increase trust in science.
Joel Saget
AFP via Getty Images
Ernest Grant, the president of the American Nurses Association, is taking part in a Moderna coronavirus vaccine trial. He says he wants to increase trust in science.

Black people are disproportionately getting sick and dying of the coronavirus, but surveys suggest they're more hesitant to get a vaccine than other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

Ernest Grant, the president of the American Nurses Association, says it relates to a history of abuses. The Tuskegee Institute syphilis study, where Black men were deceived and were withheld treatment, comes to mind.

"There's a well-documented history of Blacks being used in experiments. So even today, there's still hesitancy to participate, and usually it is based on those prior experiences," he tells David Greene on Morning Edition.

Grant, who is Black, is participating in a long-term trial of the Moderna vaccine. He wants to show that vaccines are safe for Black people. Moderna says about 10% of its 30,000 participants are Black.

Some trials have struggled to attract Black participants.

Grant says having diverse participation in vaccine trials can help spot potential side effects that might be prevalent among a certain group.

It's "important that we get a whole rainbow of colors of people, if you will, to participate in these trials so that we can say that we know for certain in communities of color that these vaccines are just as effective as they are in the white population," he says.

Here are excerpts of the interview:

What is your advice to to other nurses in trying to convince patients to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it's available?

Nurses need to educate themselves so that they have the most accurate and up-to-date information, being able to just sit down and answer questions or concerns that members of the public may have. And I think also having people in authoritative positions, such as maybe a pastor or Black doctors and nurses actually seeing them take the injection, those are some of the ways that we can help to convince communities of color that, you know, they really need to not have a fear of these vaccines.

From what you've seen so far, are you confident that there's a diverse enough population being tested that you'll have faith in results?

Certainly, I think between both the Pfizer and the Moderna, the numbers that I'm hearing of people of color that they had in their clinical trials, yes, I think that is enough to to go forward and begin to administer the vaccine. Obviously, we got news of AstraZeneca. I know their clinical trial is still open and they are still looking for particularly people of color to participate. But, yes, based on the numbers of Pfizer and Moderna, I believe that there is enough Black and people of color participation that we can move forward and say that this is safe.

What's the experience been like for you being part of one of these early trials?

It's been fine. I just had literally just about a day of just extreme fatigue and chills, and that's been it. I was able to still work during that time and continue to feel great.

Why is it worth the risk to you?

It's worth the risk because we're in the middle of a pandemic. And at this rate, particularly knowing that this virus has a propensity to really proliferate through the Black and brown community, I wanted to be able to do my part to contribute to that body of science that would help to alleviate or at the very least knock down this virus or the virus spread. So that's why it is so important, because obviously I care about mankind and anything we can do to put this virus to rest, I'm willing to do my part.

Kelley Dickens and Bo Hamby produced and edited the audio interview.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.