In the coming months, the selection of COVID vaccines is expected to be plentiful.
A total of 20 of the more than 60 vaccine candidates in development were in Phase 3 clinical trials as of Jan. 20, according to the World Health Organization. A number of those are likely to join the two currently in use and the most promising candidates from drugmakers like Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca that are only weeks away from gaining approval in the U.S.
But there’s one thing that’s missing.
Black patients represented 10% and Latinos 13% of participants in the Phase 3 clinical trial studies for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Black patients also made up 10% of participants in the Moderna vaccine trial while Latinos accounted for 20%.
Those studies reflect the higher end of minority representation in coronavirus clinical trials. Trial data for the vaccine candidate being developed by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals found Black patients made up only 5% of all participants ages 55 and under while Latino patients accounted for 4%.
The low rate of Black and Latinos patients in the coronavirus vaccine studies underscores a long-standing problem: racial and ethnic minorities represent on average about 17% of participants in industry-sponsored clinical trials despite making up a third of the population.
While Black and Latino individuals are more than three times as likely to be hospitalized and more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white patients, both groups were underrepresented in many of the vaccine clinical trials.
Several drug companies are investing in educational outreach programs to recruit more minorities trial enrollees.
But some think there’s another way to increase diversity.
“Creating a more diverse clinical research pool starts with a more diverse clinical research workforce,” said Jim Kremidas, executive director for the Association of Clinical Research Professionals. “We have to address the need for more clinical research professionals to keep up with the growing number of trials and ensure those trials are more representative of all our communities.”
Last November, ACRP expanded its digital campaign to attract racial and ethnic minority college students.
The association is encouraging minority high school juniors and seniors and college freshmen to search the organization’s website to learn about schools offering degrees in clinical research as well as information to help them get started in their careers with a list of training and internship programs.