Black Experience

HBCU Presidents Participate in COVID-19 Vaccine Trial, Encourage Students to Do Same

The presidents of two historically Black institutions in New Orleans who participated in a coronavirus vaccine trial have asked their students to also step up to the plate.

Despite skepticism among Blacks to participate in clinical trials that date back to the Tuskegee experiment where Black men went untreated for syphilis, Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, and C. Reynold Verret, who heads Xavier University of Lousiana, announced this month in a joint message that they had participated the trial.

Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough (Courtesy of
Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough (Courtesy of

“We’re protecting our communities,” Verret told NBC News. “It is important to have people like us in these trials. We all know someone who has passed or been hit with COVID-19. When a vaccine comes, we want it to be available and to work on our community. Participating in trials is the only way to do so. We only have 1 or 2 percent; we need 10 to 15 percent participation.”

Although the pushback against Kimbrough and Verret taking part in the trial has been strong, Dr. Larry Graham, a retired pulmonologist in Atlanta, said such participation in clinical trials is essential because of genetics related to racial differences.

“We must be sure it works in Black folks,” Graham told NBC. “This can only be determined by our inclusion in the research-based trials of such vaccines.”

Verret and Montgomery wrote in a letter encouraging student participation that, “overcoming the virus will require the availability of vaccines effective for all peoples in our communities, especially our Black and brown neighbors. … It is of the utmost importance that a significant number of black and brown subjects participate so that the effectiveness of these vaccines be understood across the many diverse populations that comprise these United States.”

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