In an effort to fight the coronavirus, Howard University announced Jan. 11 its participation in the Phase 3 COVID-19 clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine developed by Novovax, a Gaithersburg, Md., biotechnology company.

Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University, said the Novovax clinical trial will benefit the community.

“Along with following COVID-19 prevention guidelines, effective vaccination is the most promising approach to mitigating and ending the pandemic,” Frederick said. “Our goal through participation is to ensure a safe and effective product is developed to address the needs of the Black, Latino and other minority communities.”

In the District, Blacks comprise 45 percent of the population but makeup 48 percent of its positive tests for the coronavirus and 74 percent of virus-related deaths, according to the statistics from the D.C. Department of Health.

In reference to clinical trials nationally, Blacks consisted 10 percent of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna programs, while 2019 census data reports 13 percent of the nation’s population consists of African Americans.

Dr. Siham Mahgoub, medical director of Howard’s Center of Infectious Disease Management and Research and principal investigator for the Novovax trial at Howard, said inclusion of people of color in clinical trials aids in the fight against the virus.

“Black and Latino communities already have an unequal burden of chronic health conditions like cancer, heart disease and hypertension,” Mahgoub said. “If the vaccine trials include significant numbers of people with diverse medical histories, we can have greater confidence that vaccines will be safe for people with a wide range of health conditions.”

Novovax also has coronavirus vaccine clinical trials with predominantly Black Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

To participate in the Howard trial, one must be 18 years or older and be in the high-risk category medically. People who work with the elderly or in a correctional institution or senior-living facility or nursing home are also eligible.

Clinical trial participants are compensated.

Participants in the clinical trial can be served at the hospital’s Clinical Research Unit or through a mobile unit that will circulate in the District.

Darnella McGuire-Nelson participates in the Howard clinical trial. She heard about it on the radio and watched a webinar featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, talk about the importance of Black participation in clinical trials.

“To hear a man of the caliber of Dr. Fauci talk about the benefits of getting vaccinated had a lot of influence on me,” she said. “The fact he mentioned his colleague at the National Institute of Health, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black woman, played a major role in the development of the vaccine only encouraged me more.”

McGuire-Nelson said she contacted the hospital which led to her registering online. She said since her enrollment, she has been to the hospital several times and received her second shot on Jan. 25.

McGuire-Nelson confessed to not knowing whether she received a Novovax vaccine or a placebo. If she has been receiving the placebo, she will get the Novovax vaccine.

If she has been getting the vaccine, she will continue to participate in the two-year trial.

McGuire-Nelson encourages Blacks to participate in clinical trials and to be immunized.

“Don’t be scared to ask questions,” she said. “I participated in the trial because I don’t want to get sick. If you are interested in a clinical trial, go for it.”

James Wright photo

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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