The National Medical Association (NMA), a professional society of Black doctors, formed an in-house task force to review data and endorse the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorizations for the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccines, in hopes that their endorsement will help combat skepticism among communities of color.
In 1895, NMA was founded as a response to the American Medical Association’s repeated denial of membership to Black doctors. The association’s COVID-19 task force is aimed at building and maintaining trust in the vaccines among people of color, given the long history of racism in medicine. “We realize that Black people are at the highest risk for coronavirus but the least likely to want to take the vaccine, so we’re trying to reverse that,” Rodney Hood, MD, an internal medicine doctor at San Ysidro Health in San Diego, California, and member of the task force, told STAT.
“Medical professionals have to understand that the fear of COVID-19, which is this invisible looming foe, that fear does not always outweigh the very clear and well-documented danger of going to a health care system that has proven itself to be as deadly as disease,” said Gabrielle Perry, MD, a clinical epidemiologist from New Orleans who is not involved with NMA’s task force.
Town hall meetings and webinars organized with universities, fraternities, sororities, and churches “are also informing discussions with the pharmaceutical company scientists that are producing the vaccines, so that when we meet with them, these are questions we can ask,” said NMA President Leon McDougle, MD, MPH, a professor of family medicine and Chief Diversity Officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. For instance, task force members have heard concerns about the vaccine causing infertility or being less safe or efficacious for people with conditions that disproportionately affect Black patients, such as sickle cell disease and HIV.
“We need to ensure that the African American community and those that have challenges with transportation, health care, sick leave from work, and finances – that they have as much access as others,” said Oliver Brooks, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Watts Healthcare Corporation, a past president of the NMA, and member of the task force. “There should be a nationally coordinated strategy.”