Today I started a COVID-19 clinical trial.
Was I hesitant? Yes, at first, but then I did my research on the product, asked a ton of questions about the research study, asked my primary care doctor if she thought it was safe for me to participate, and confirmed with my insurance provider that participating wouldn't impact my existing medical insurance coverage.
Given all the hype and the confusion surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, I thought a lot about this decision, carefully weighing the risks and the benefits. End the end, the benefits won and I believe I made the right choice.
Access to the vaccine early. According to the New York Times' Find Your Place in Line calculator, there are approximately 268.7 million people in line in front of me in the U.S. and 6.8 million in the state where I live to receive the vaccine. In other words, I think it's safe to say that it was going to be a while before my turn if I'd waited. Instead, there's a 66% chance that I received the vaccine today. That would be cool.
Immediate and regular COVID-19 testing. I had my first nasal swab test today as part of the study. The clinic probably knows by now whether I already have the virus (even though I'm pretty sure I don't). As part of the study, I'll be tested for the virus and for antibodies periodically over the course of the two-year study. No brainer.
Top-notch medical care for two years at no cost. Of course, if I fell and broke my leg, the study sponsors wouldn't pay for my medical expenses, but any medical issues that could even remotely be related to the vaccine or exposure to the virus itself will be covered at no charge to me for the next two years. Yes, even if I got the placebo, or I got the actual vaccine and it turns out to be a dud, or if I were to actually contract the virus, I contact the clinic to report any symptoms and they'll take it from there. I'll be sleeping better at night.
It's flu season and I sometimes have seasonal allergies. For two years, if I have any respiratory symptoms at all, I don't have to wonder or worry about whether it might be COVID-19. If the symptoms are severe, or if they're milder but last more than two days, a call to the office means going in for a COVID-19 test. No worries and no wait.
Consideration of the risks. I carefully reviewed the list and severity of symptoms from the 10,000+ people like me who've already received the injection I got today against the symptoms of the virus, factored in the immediate and thorough care I'd receive as the result of symptoms from either the vaccine or the virus while in the study. By my calculation, the risks associated with the vaccine were far less.
There's compensation too. This definitely wasn't a primary consideration, but it certainly was an added bonus.
To help others. Seriously. I know that probably sounds lame, but it's true. I've always believed that it was my ethical responsibility, whenever I could, to share my experiences (and my DNA) in the hopes of making a small contribution to something much greater than myself. That's why I'm one of the 59,000 African-American women who enrolled in Boston University's Black Women's Health Study when it began in 1995, and why I participate in genetic research conducted by 23andme.
That last point leads to the reason I decided to write this post today. As I suspected, while the research clinic I went to has meet most of its goals for the maximum number of participants in various cohorts, the percentage of study participants that are people of color, particularly African-Americans, is disappointingly low. If I had to guess I'd say this is probably true across medical research studies in general.
I get that there is a sordid history of medical research conducted on people of color without their consent, with horrible consequences, but I also understand the importance of properly conducted medical research needed to find treatments, and even cures, for all types of medical conditions.
According to WebMD, African-Americans are more severely impacted by several deadly diseases, including diabetes, sarcoidosis, lung cancer, strokes, high blood pressure, and cancer, and African-Americans are three times more likely to die of asthma than white Americans.
Yes, there are definitely racial disparities in medical treatment based on race, and yes, that's wrong and those injustices need to be corrected.
However, there are opportunities available to people of color to improve the advancement of treatments, and hopefully cures, for the diseases that ravage our community. Those medical advances require testing in clinical trials, and those clinical trials require people of color who are willing to volunteer to help make a difference in the lives of others.
We can be a part of the solution to at least some of the inequity in health care among people of color. I'm stepping up. I hope that a lot of other people of color will too.