MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Twin Cities clinical trial for a different COVID vaccine than the one approved Friday is working to overcome Black under-representation in medicine.

HealthPartners is currently conducting research on an AstraZeneca vaccine with a Phase 3 trial. Adriene Thornton is a Black nurse who felt like it was her duty, and the right thing, to participate.

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“I want to protect myself, my family and my community, so for me it was not a question of whether I was going to do it, it was when,” she said.

Thornton understands why it’s important for people of color to be included in medical research.

“[Without participating in trials,] we don’t know how medications and treatments will impact us until we start using them,” she said.

Dr. Zeke McKinney, a Black doctor overseeing the HealthPartners study, says it’s not always easy to recruit for trials like this.

“In talking to people in the Black community, you’ll hear very commonly ‘I don’t want to be a guinea pig,'” he said.

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McKinney says that medicine has a history of misinformation about Black health because of lack of research. There have also been high-profile abuses that erode trust, like the Tuskegee syphilis study, in which Black men were unethically denied treatment for the disease. The Tuskegee experiment led to many safety protections being implemented in the field of medical research.

Today, McKinney says there are concerns the same lack of trust will lead some Black people not to get a COVID vaccine.

“You’d have even more hesitancy from communities of color if they found out we didn’t do any trials on those communities,” he said.

Of more than 700 patients enrolled in the HealthPartners trial, about 30 percent are non-white, McKinney says. That’s roughly the demographics of the Twin Cities, which was an objective of the trial.

“We can’t wait for others to participate and expect everything to work out well for us,” Thornton said. “We have to be a part of the trials so we can have a positive impact on the health and wellness of our communities.”

HealthPartners is still accepting applicants for its COVID vaccine trial. More information can be found here.

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David Schuman