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COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials lack diversity. Here's why that's important.

Researchers found that COVID-19 vaccine trials are not representative of the people being most affected by the virus.

SAN FRANCISCO — The rush is on to create a vaccine for COVID-19. Right now, there are 38 vaccines being tested on humans in clinical trials.

Researchers have found some troubling information when it comes to who the vaccines are being tested on. Three doctors and researchers from the University of California San Francisco found that of the six clinical trials for COVID-19 happening in the United States, all underrepresented Black patients.

That's a problem because Black Americans and other minorities are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus. The COVID Racial Data Tracker, a collaboration between the COVID Tracking Project and the Boston University Center for Antiracist research, found that Black people are dying at more than twice the rate of white people from COVID-19.

That means that clinical trials for the vaccine should represent what the Black American population really looks like.

"We're eager for there to be effective drugs, but we want to ensure if we're developing these drugs and vaccines that we're not doing harm. In order to make that conclusion and to feel assured, we need to know the patients involved in the studies that are giving us confidence about safety and confidence in effectiveness reflect the patients that are going to eventually receive the drug or the vaccine," said Dr. Hala Borno, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco in the department of hematology and oncology.

If clinical trials don't have diversity, it means the drugs or vaccines developed may not be efficient for everyone it's given to or that there are side effects that won't be caught until later down the line.

"That's troubling when we know there's such an incredible disparity with this disease," said Dr. Borno. "There needs to be a mechanism that ensures the delivery of the vaccine ensures wellness across the population. So you have to look at who has the greatest risk if they were to get infected." 

Simply put, to make sure a vaccine is successful in the real world all of the clinical testing needs to look like what a real nationwide or worldwide distribution would look like. That means people of color, men and women, people with pre-existing health conditions and people from all different economic backgrounds.

She said this issue of recruiting diverse patients isn't exclusive to COVID-19. That difficulty may stem from a history of mistreatment and discrimination against minorities in the medical field.

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