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Diversity emerges as key challenge for coronavirus drug trials

The coronavirus pandemic has hit disproportionately hard in Black and Hispanic communities, where infection rates and death rates have reached staggering levels. 

But as scientists race to develop vaccines against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and treatments for the COVID-19 disease it causes, many trials are struggling to enroll people from those very communities.

Government and private sector scientists trying to enroll tens of thousands of Americans in a handful of studies of potential coronavirus vaccines are working overtime to reach out to underrepresented communities. But they have reported running up against rumors and misinformation in minority communities in places like Seattle and New York City, where mistrust remains deeply rooted. 

That mistrust comes from America’s long history of discrimination against minority groups, some of whom have been used as human guinea pigs for sadistic experiments.  

The U.S. Public Health Service denied treatment to 600 Black men who had syphilis, even after penicillin became a widely available treatment, in the gruesome Tuskegee experiments. Native Americans were forced to undergo sterilization procedures, and some were used to test dangerous new pharmaceuticals. 

To many, that history is all too recent. Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in recent years have found both Black Americans and Native Americans are less trusting of medical doctors than are whites. 

“There are countless examples that all get pushed into a general well-founded feeling that when people are coming to do experiments or trials in Black communities, maybe there’s an ulterior motive,” said Prabhjot Singh, a health systems expert at the Arnold Institute of Global Health.

Enrolling a diverse set of patients and volunteers in trials is both a scientific and cultural imperative, said some of those involved in designing trials today.  

On the scientific side, so little is known about the way the coronavirus attacks the body and the way COVID-19 manifests that diversity — in age groups, ethnic groups and even socioeconomic status — is necessary to learn who is at risk of serious or severe symptoms. 

Some diseases strike certain ethnic groups more than others. People of African descent, Hispanic descent and Middle Eastern descent are more likely to be impacted by sickle cell disease. Some cardiovascular drugs are less effective in people of Asian descent than in those of European origin. 

Studies that include a diverse range of people can identify whether a vaccine would have different safety and efficacy profiles among different racial or ethnic groups. The goal, scientists said, is to develop treatments that work for everyone, even if that means different groups respond better to one treatment over another. 

“Having a clear representation of different minorities in these trials, you can ensure a vaccine is working across populations,” said Alejandro Cané, head of Vaccines Medical and Scientific Affairs at Pfizer. 

On the cultural side, enrolling a diverse range of people during the trial phase can lead to a broader acceptance once a vaccine or treatment is approved and becomes widely used.

“There is an element

OU college of medicine plans mobile classroom to promote diversity in health professions

OKLAHOMA CITY — A large RV, customized as a health education classroom on wheels, is among the new projects the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine plans with a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

The grant is a one-year supplement that augments an initial $4.7 million award to the OU College of Medicine last year. The aim of the grant is to recruit, retain and admit students from rural, tribal and medically underserved areas, and to expand the primary care experience among current medical students. Data shows that students from those groups who attend medical school and residency in Oklahoma are more likely to return to their communities to practice medicine.

“Of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, 76 have a shortage of primary care physicians, and the need is particularly great in rural areas, underserved communities and tribes. The ultimate goal of this grant is to reduce healthcare disparities among Oklahomans and raise the health of the state,” said Steven Crawford, M.D., Senior Associate Dean of the College of Medicine and director of the Office of Healthcare Innovation and Policy. Crawford is leading the grant with James Herman, M.D., Dean of the OU-TU School of Community Medicine on the Tulsa campus.

The mobile classroom will allow the OU College of Medicine to introduce young people across Oklahoma to careers in health and to give them hands-on experience with activities like suturing, using a stethoscope or a microscope. The classroom will especially be geared toward smaller communities with fewer resources. Students from those areas may have the interest and skills to enter a health profession, but lack the opportunities to pursue it, said Robert Salinas, M.D., Assistant Dean for Diversity in the College of Medicine and a faculty lead for the grant.

“This mobile classroom will be a major asset in our outreach and in building long-term relationships with young people,” Salinas said. “This is not a one-year event, but is part of our efforts to build a pathway to medical school in which we mentor them over several years.”

Current students from all seven colleges at the OU Health Sciences Center, as well as the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work on OU’s Norman campus, will accompany the mobile classroom on trips around the state as part of their training to care for patients as an interprofessional team. They will not only introduce their chosen disciplines to the young people they encounter, but also see first-hand the challenges of life in underserved areas, where there are numerous barriers to good health.

The grant supplement will also allow the OU College of Medicine to launch the Medical School Readiness Program, an opportunity for students to be mentored as they prepare for the Medical College Admission Test, take part in mock interviews and job shadowing. This program is geared toward highly motivated students who traditionally have lacked the resources, because of time or money, to prepare for medical school.

The OU-TU School of Community Medicine, the

Girls on the Run International Establishes Commission for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access

Girls on the Run inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident.
Girls on the Run inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident.
Girls on the Run inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident.

Charlotte, NC, Oct. 01, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Today, Girls on the Run International (GOTRI) announced the establishment of its inaugural IDEA Commission to support inclusion, diversity, equity and access across the national nonprofit organization. GOTRI designs programming that strengthens third- to eighth-grade girls’ social, emotional, physical, and behavioral skills to successfully navigate life experiences. More than 2 million girls have participated in the program since it launched 24 years ago.

“This commission will help us deliver on our commitment to be a place where all people feel welcome, worthy and empowered,” said Elizabeth Kunz, CEO of Girls on the Run International. “Staff and volunteer leaders from throughout our organization were intentionally selected to ensure a wide range of perspectives and experiences are brought to the meaningful work of advancing inclusion, diversity, equity and access at Girls on the Run.”

The commission will be led by Juliellen Simpson-Vos, vice president of council development at GOTRI, and Ivory Patten, legal manager at GOTRI. Elizabeth Kunz, CEO, will serve on the committee to assist in strategic guidance and oversee organizational commitment. The following individuals will be serving on the IDEA Commission and developing the organization’s national IDEA vision and strategy:

Mollie Anderson, Chicago, Illinois

Melida Barbosa, New York, New York

Kathleen Cannon, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Rakesh Gopalan, Charlotte, North Carolina

Tenika Hill, Riverside, California

Erica Hernandez, San Francisco, California

Rachel de Jesus, Flagstaff, Arizona

Hao Le, San Jose, California

Sonal Modisette, Seattle, Washington

Jennifer Passey, Fairfax, Virginia

Kaityre Pinder, Atlanta, Georgia

Meg Pomerantz, Durham, North Carolina

Elena Simpkins, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Megan Wolfe, Mountlake Terrace, Washington

The IDEA Commission will oversee seven subcommittees created to inform, deepen and articulate the activities and outcomes of the Commission. To learn more about the organization’s ongoing commitment to IDEA, please visit

ABOUT GIRLS ON THE RUN INTERNATIONAL Girls on the Run International designs programming that strengthens third- to eighth-grade girls’ social, emotional, physical, and behavioral skills to successfully navigate life experiences. Each year, more than 200,000 girls ages eight to 13 participate in communities in 50 states and Washington DC. More than 2 million girls have participated in the program since it launched in 1996. The curriculum reaches girls at a critical stage, strengthening their confidence at a time when society begins to tell them they can’t. Underscoring the important connection between physical and emotional health, the program addresses the whole girl when she needs it the most. Results show GOTRI programs inspire and empower girls to build healthy physical and mental habits that last long beyond the program. According to a longitudinal study conducted by The University of Minnesota, 97% of Girls on the Run participants said they learn critical life skills including resolving conflict, helping others or making intentional decisions; and 94% of parents reported it was a valuable experience for their