Business

‘I Won’t Be Used as a Guinea Pig for White People’

Ms. Arnold seized the moment. Go door to door with me, she pressed. Talk to folks about Covid-19 safety, about signing up for the vaccine registry.

The registry, a bank of people willing to be contacted about the clinical trials, does not commit you to getting the experimental vaccine, she added, only to being called by researchers.

“You’re not going to be the guinea pig,” the supervisor of the volunteers, Tyra L. Townsend, chimed in. “White people are.”

That is because, she said, most of the vaccine trial registrants so far are white.

The room hesitated, perched on the precipice of decision-making. No firm commitments. But interest, definitely.

The recruiters said they would return to the Heights at 6 p.m. to begin knocking on doors.

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Black and Latino people, along with Native Americans, are being hit far harder by the coronavirus than white people are. A recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that from March through mid-July, people of color were five times more likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 than their white counterparts and that through Aug. 4, the rate of death among Black people, relative to their share of the population, was at least twice as high. In Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh, the Black population’s rates of cases and hospitalizations have been almost as stark.

While Black people stand to benefit greatly from a coronavirus vaccine, surveys show that they are the group least likely to trust one. In a poll last month by the Pew Research Group, only 32 percent of Black respondents said they were likely to take it, compared with 52 percent of white respondents. Historically, Black people have been more hesitant than other groups to get vaccines, especially the flu shot, and are also far less likely to volunteer for medical research; one study showed their participation hovering at about 5 percent. They are 13 percent of the population.

The mistrust is built on present disparities as well as a long history of abuse. Studies show that Black people in the United States have less access to good medical care than do white people and their concerns are more likely to be dismissed. Notorious medical experiments on Black people continue to exacerbate suspicion. They include surgeries by Dr. J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist, on enslaved Black women, the 40-year-long Tuskegee study, in which doctors deliberately allowed syphilis to progress in Black Alabama sharecroppers, and researchers’ taking of cells without permission from Henrietta Lacks, an African-American cancer patient, in 1951.

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