The worsening COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately harmed Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. Now the next U.S. President is putting together a coronavirus task force whose members primarily come from those communities.
President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named 13 doctors and health experts to his transition’s COVID-19 advisory board. Five of those 13 task force members, or 38%, are female. Nine members, or 69%, are Black, Latinx, Asian, or other underrepresented minorities.
The task force will be cochaired by David Kessler, a former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton; Vivek H. Murthy, a former Surgeon General under President Barack Obama; and Marcella Nunez-Smith, the associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine and a doctor who has spent her career addressing structural inequities in health and health care.
Biden’s announcement Monday acknowledged these “ongoing racial and ethnic disparities” as one of the problems his coronavirus task force would seek to address.
“Dealing with the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most important battles our administration will face, and I will be informed by science and by experts,” the President-elect said, adding that the task force would help with “ensuring vaccines are safe, effective, and distributed efficiently, equitably, and free; and protecting at-risk populations.”
Every part of the pandemic, and the U.S. response to it so far, has been complicated by the country’s legacy of racism and ongoing disparities in health and health care. Black people are dying from COVID-19 at more than twice the rate of white people, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, in a health crisis that has been exacerbated by stark and pre-existing racial disparities in health and in the quality of care available to underrepresented and lower-income populations.
Yet at the same time, people of color are often largely omitted from clinical trials for vaccines and other medical treatments, despite some efforts by the government and pharmaceutical industry to increase the diversity of these studies. After a long history of being mistreated in medical research, Black people are particularly suspicious of vaccinations and clinical trials. In mid-September, only 32% of Black Americans surveyed told the Pew Research Center they would definitely or probably get a COVID-19 vaccine if one were available immediately, compared with 52% of white respondents, 54% of Hispanic-Americans, and 72% of Asian-Americans.
Pfizer and BioNTech, which on Monday reported highly encouraging results from the ongoing study of their developing COVID-19 vaccine, have made some progress toward better-than-usual representation in their clinical trials, although they do still have room to improve. Approximately 10% of the U.S. participants in their trials are Black, compared with 13% of the U.S. population; about 13% are Hispanic or Latinx, compared with 18% of the overall population.