Pointing to skepticism he attributed to the Trump administration’s hurried program to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday he intends to draw from a broad array of constituencies to publicly vet the safety, efficacy and best practices for distributing a vaccine should one be approved.
Vice President Mike Pence and federal health officials told governors on a briefing call to expect a widely available vaccine in July, but the administration’s previous goal of producing 300 million doses by January through “Operation Warp Speed” did not engender public confidence, Lamont said.
Polling by Pew Research Center and others has found a deep mistrust of experimental COVID treatment by Black Americans, who have suffered disproportionately from a disease that has now claimed nearly one million lives worldwide, 200,000 in the U.S. and 4,495 in Connecticut.
“That’s why we’re putting together a group of the widest group of stakeholders we can. That’s why we’re going to do this all in public,” Lamont said, adding he will “do everything we can to give people a little confidence this is no Tuskegee experiment.”
He was referring to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study by the U.S Public Health Service, which tracked without treating venereal disease in hundreds of Blacks for 40 years until a whistleblower went public in 1972, producing one of modern science’s worst bioethical scandals.
Lamont named two co-chairs of his advisory group: Dr. Deidre Gifford, his acting public health commissioner; and Dr. Reginald J. Eadie, president of Trinity Health, the hospital network that operates St. Francis in Hartford, St. Mary’s in Waterbury and Johnson Memorial in Stafford.
Eadie, who is Black, said he well understands the legacy of Tuskegee and the need to develop community trust in any vaccine program. He said he will serve as “an advocate to the African American community.”
He and Gifford “will not promote the vaccine to the state of Connecticut and its citizens unless we’re sure, regardless of race, age, co-morbidities, that it’s the right thing to do and safe for all of you,” Eadie said. “And that’s a promise.”
STAT, a health news site, reported earlier Monday that an association of Black physicians intended to create a panel of experts to evaluate COVID therapies and vaccines, an expression of distrust in the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to resist political pressures.
“It’s necessary to provide a trusted messenger of vetted information to the African American community,” said Leon McDougle, a family physician and president of the National Medical Association. “There is a concern that some of the recent decisions by the Food and Drug Administration have been unduly influenced by politicians.”
A week ago, Lamont’s talk of outreach to Black churches to help with outreach over a vaccine was viewed suspiciously in comments to a Facebook post by Sen. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford.
McCrory, whose district includes the Black neighborhoods of north Hartford, said many of his constituents believed their community was shortchanged when it came to testing in the early days of the pandemic, even though it was hard-hit by the disease.
“We’re last to get to get tested and first to be vaccinated?” he said.
McCrory said he was organizing a town hall meeting in the next two weeks about vaccinations in the Black community.
“We can have a conversation. It’s important to hear both sides of a conversation, not just one side,” McCrory said.
McCrory said skepticism in the Black community about a COVID vaccine is a product of history — and current events. The push to quickly develop a vaccine exacerbates a well-founded suspicion about how science and medicine treat Blacks, McCrory said.
Lamont’s advisory group will begin work in October after Lamont completes his appointments. Unlike his Reopen Connecticut advisory group, it will meet publicly and and include state lawmakers, as well as vaccine experts, emergency management officials and representatives of “highly impacted communities.”
“If you want to get this COVID-19 behind us, I’ve got to give you confidence when it comes to testing, I’ve got to give you confidence when it comes to therapies, and I’ve got to give you confidence when it comes to a vaccine,” Lamont said. “And the best way I can do that is to get the best minds here in the state to reinforce our message.”
His announcement came on a day when the CDC abruptly withdrew guidance on its web site that the novel coronavirus is transmitted primarily through the air, the latest in a string of confusing or contradictory steps. The CDC said a draft guidance was inadvertently posted and was being revised.
Connecticut recorded 497 infections among the 45,595 test completed since Friday, a positivity rate of 1.1%.