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'Those numbers are too low' | Charlotte coronavirus vaccine trials call for more representation in participants

Doctors say research participation from Black Americans, Latinxs, Asians and Native Americans is lacking and is crucial to see how the vaccine will work for all.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Doctors with the Charlotte-based research for Moderna's Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial are calling for more racial diversity in participants. It is an essential step in making sure the vaccine works for all.

"Everyone is affected by COVID-19. No one is immune to COVID-19," said Dr. Ryan Shelton, with Tryon Medical Partners, which is conducting the Charlotte trials. "For the vaccine to be the most helpful, we need to be sure that it's safe and works for everyone."

Shelton said participation is lacking in important ways, and researchers are hoping more volunteers come forward to help fill the gaps.

"The numbers, in general, for participation for Latinx, Black Americans, American Indians, Asian -- those numbers are too low," Dr. Shelton said.

It is a nationwide problem, and not just with this specific trial either.

Research shows that Black Americans are about 13% of the U.S. population but make up only 5% of clinical trial participants. Latinx people are about 18% of the population but are only 1% of trial participants. 

Those are important numbers to consider when both groups have a higher chance of death from the coronavirus.

Dana Dornsife, a cancer patient advocate and founder of the Lazarex Cancer Foundation, explains why some might have research hesitations.

"Historically, there have been a lot of medical injustices, and because of that, there is a lot of fear and a lot of mistrust, and that has been handed down through the generations," Dornslife said.

One example is the Tuskegee Study, where researchers told hundreds of Black men with syphilis they would get treatment for the disease. The men never did, and researchers never revealed the true purpose of the study either.

RELATED: The importance of clinical COVID-19 trials to reflect the population at large

Shelton said the mistrust based on injustices is understandable, but he is hoping people consider taking part in the vaccine trials, keeping mind it is an important role in the fight against COVID-19.

"Lots of physicians in my practice and physicians from our community have participated in the study," Shelton said. "I hope that helps folks understand the importance, and if we feel comfortable doing it, I hope that other people might."

The research call is for adult participants only. The deadline to apply is Friday, September 18. To participate or get more information about the trials, call Tryon Medical Partners at 704-586-9386. You can also read more about the group's call for diversity in vaccine trials here.

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