Black patients are wary of a coronavirus vaccine. Can Louisiana research fix decades of distrust?

In August, Xavier University President Reynold Verret rolled up his sleeve and got a shot as part of a clinical trial for coronavirus vaccines.

The president of the historically Black school thought it was important to partake in vaccine trials, which are notoriously bereft of people of color. Along with the Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough, who also got the shot, he wrote a letter to students, staff, and faculty encouraging participation.

Dr. Reynold Verret, the sixth president and second lay leader of Xavier University of Louisiana, speaks in his office in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

“My intention was leading by example,” said Verret. “I rolled up my sleeves, you can see the color of my skin, I took the shot and I’m OK.”

But some students, parents, and alumni didn’t see it that way. There were nearly 1,000 comments across the social media posts containing the letter, many of them deeply critical of its message.

“Sorry, not using my child as a guinea pig,” said one social media post.

“I can’t believe Xavier would participate or encourage participation in this,” said another. “Xavier is where I learned about the Tuskegee experiment,” referring to a study by the U.S. government in which diagnosis and treatment were withheld for 40 years from Black men with syphilis.

The response was an early indication that deep scars within the Black community related to historical and present-day medical mistreatment may thwart the coming rollout of the coronavirus vaccine rollout in some areas, even as the coronavirus continues to disproportionately affect Black people.


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