A new Georgia State project aims to understand why some Black Atlantans are hesitant to participate in COVID-19 research.
Black communities across America have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, with three times the case rates, five times the hospitalization rates and twice the death rates of their white counterparts. Despite being hardest hit by COVID-19, Black people are also underrepresented in COVID-19 research, composing just three percent of vaccine trial enrollees.
What are the barriers that prevent more African Americans from taking part in COVID-19 studies — and what could encourage greater participation? Although there are many compounding factors that account for a lack of representation in research, one is a deep legacy of distrust, said Lisa Diane White, deputy director of SisterLove, a women-led HIV/AIDS and reproductive justice organization based in Atlanta.
“There’s a narrative that Black people have internalized [based on historic mistreatment and exploitation by doctors and scientists], and it makes us afraid,” she said. “Even as a health advocate and educator, when I’m in the doctor’s office, I’m afraid of trying to communicate why I’m sick or hurting.”
SisterLove is the lead community partner in a new Georgia State project to help identify and overcome longstanding obstacles to research participation among Black communities in Atlanta.
“Because these groups are less likely to participate in research, it’s hard to assess the true burden of infection,” said Heather Bradley, principal investigator of the project and assistant professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health. “The disparities may be even greater than we realize.”
To guide their efforts, the research team, which includes faculty in epidemiology, psychology and sociology, has convened an advisory board of seven Atlanta-area organizations that are Black-led and serving Black communities around the city.
The advisory board will recruit 50 individuals from various sociodemographic groups to participate in interviews about what might prevent them from participating in COVID-19 serostudies, large-scale surveys that test for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 antibody through a finger prick or other minimally invasive procedure.
“We’ll ask respondents to either endorse or reject those barriers that came up in the interviews, and start to home in on which factors are most heavily influencing decision-making, and how it differs by things like income, education level, age, gender or country of birth,” Bradley said.
The goal is to come up with recommendations that are tailored to different populations. The team will also work with the advisory board to communicate the findings back to the participating communities.
“Trusted education is culturally relevant. Trusted sources look like people from the community that you’re serving,” said White. “By participating in this project, I’m learning how to be a trusted source.”
Illustration by Reid Schulz (B.F.A. ’18)