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Clinical Trials

Africa, African-Americans, and the Coronavirus Vaccines

I mentioned yesterday in my post about anti-vaccine arguments that there seemed to be suspicions on social media platforms about vaccine testing in Africa. I’ve been looking around for more of that, and finding plenty of it. I’ve also heard from a colleague with some pertinent thoughts about how these things get going, and I think it’s worth addressing all this in a separate post.

Some History

First off, it is all to easy to realize where the suspicions about using Africa (and Africans) as a test bed come from. You can start with the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, an inhuman project that has stained biomedical research ever since. Yes, for forty years health authorities deliberately left black men in Alabama untreated to watch what happened as they slowly developed tertiary syphilis, all the time being told that they were receiving free care from the government. The male subjects were observed as they slowly died of the disease, while their wives contracted it from them and (in some cases) their children were born with it. Over the years, several people who became aware of the study expressed ethical concerns, only to be brushed aside. If you’re imagining a few amoral ringleaders operating in secret, though, prepare to be even more disillusioned: the study (including its design of leaving the men untreated and not informing them that they had syphilis) was endorsed by Robert Moton, head of the Tuskegee Institute (who died in 1940). Local physicians participated in the evaluation of the subjects. And the local chapters of the American Medical Association and the National Medical Association (the latter historically representing African-American physicians) actually both expressed support for the study’s continuation in the mid-1960s in a CDC report. (Both groups have since had internal examinations, often acrimonious, of their roles in the affair). No, like many other indefensible acts, this one had plenty of people who were willing to go along with it. As the world knows, the whistle was finally blown for good in 1972 and the study was halted amid a huge and totally justified outcry.

There’s a large secondary literature of attempts to judge just how much harm the Tuskegee experiment did for attitudes about medical research among the African-American population, and the answers vary widely. But how could it have not done damage? The details have been out for almost fifty years now, and while some people may have forgotten about it (or by this point perhaps never even heard of the study), many others will have learned about it so long ago that it’s part of their mental worldview. As it should be, honestly, along with the many other examples of what human beings are capable of when they decide to stop treating others as human beings themselves. Just in the biomedical field you have the Nazi experiments on concentration camp inmates and the Japanese experiments on prisoners of war and occupied civilian populations that come immediately to mind. We – that’s “we humans” – are capable of terrible things, and every time someone comes up with such ideas they always seem to be able to find people willing to help carry them out, too. Never forget this.

There are more recent events that bring on suspicion about drug trials in Africa, unfortunately. Many will have heard of a meningitis epidemic in Nigeria’s Kano state in the mid-1990s, and a Pfizer study of their antibiotic trovafloxacin that violated ethical guidelines. The patients (children, and their parents) were not adequately informed of the risks, and it turned out that an ethics-board approval from Nigerian authorities was back-dated by as much as a year. There were accusations of mis-dosing,  inappropriate treatment, and more, and Pfizer’s own responses to this over the years did not do them credit, either, The legal battles have been long and convoluted and Pfizer has been paying out compensation to victims since 2011. This affair has been cited as one of the factors for the difficulties in getting full polio vaccination complete in Nigeria and other countries, and thus has done real and continuing harm even beyond the original victims.

The Current Epidemic

I feel that I need to lead with the bad stuff, because it’s real and it has to be taken into account. But now let’s look at what’s going on with the coronavirus pandemic. As far as I can tell, this news is what has set off the latest arguing in social media. It’s about the first coronavirus vaccine trials in Africa, which are being conducted with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by the University of Witwatersrand. What seems to have happened is that many took the headline to mean that this was the first vaccine trial anywhere, and that an African population was being used as the initial test subjects. Thus the uproar.

But that’s not the case. The Oxford vaccine itself first entered human trials with over a thousand people in Oxford, Southampton, London, and Bristol, England. Requirements were that participants be 18 to 55 years old, in good health, had not tested positive for the coronavirus, nor had participated in any other trials against the disease. The next phase of the study began in May, recruiting over 10,000 volunteers around the country in a wider range of age groups. Why, then, are they also testing in South Africa? Because it’s in the Southern Hemisphere, where winter is coming on, for one thing. And for another, Oxford (like all the other groups developing these vaccines) is having to go to the locations where the epidemic is spreading. That’s why they’ve also announced a 2,000-patient trial in Brazil. If you want good statistics on whether your vaccine protects people from infection, your best shot is in a population where the likelihood of such infection is higher. No one is going to go to New Zealand to test a coronavirus vaccine, for example, although it looks like you’d do well to dose in Houston or Phoenix right now.

You will find similar things with those other vaccines. Not one of them has been tested in Africa so far – the Oxford/AZ trial is the first. Moderna started human trials in March in Washington state, and here’s an interview with one of the first people to get it (in Seattle). Their Phase II trial (600 people) was cleared in early May to run in Seattle, Bethesda, and Decatur, GA, and their Phase III will enroll 30,000 people at sites all around the US (and likely in other countries as well). There are several vaccine efforts that are taking place entirely in China, with no enrollments outside the country. Pfizer and BioNTech started their first dosing in Germany in April, and have started dosing patients in the US in New York, Maryland, Rochester and Cincinnati.  Novavax has started its Phase I in Australia, and its Phase II will take place at locations around the US. Imperial College has dosed their candidate vaccine in London just a few days ago. Curevac is starting trials in Germany and Belgium. Inovio has announced testing in China and South Korea, and Genexine has started their vaccine in South Korea as well (although as both go forward, they will surely have to move to other locations). J&J is starting in July in the US and in Belgium. And so on. There are many other candidates heading into trials later this year, and none of them have announced plans for work in any African country so far. There is absolutely no pattern whatsoever of Africa being used as a test bed for these new therapies.

And there is no pattern of African-American patients here in the US being used as such, either. In fact, the worries are about low enrollment in that community, and you’ll see from that article that a big part of the problem (naturally enough) is mistrust about medical research founded in the Tuskegee experiment. That’s the frustrating part: as we go on, we’re going to need data on these vaccine candidates from as wide a range of people as we can possibly get – ages, gender, ancestry, pre-existing medical conditions, other drugs being taken, all of it. The response of human beings to disease (and to disease treatment) varies across a huge complicated landscape of genetic, social, and environmental factors – many of them interacting with each other – and the only way to evaluate something like a coronavirus vaccine (which could well be rolled out to billions of people) is to test it as broadly as possible. The African-American population is clearly being hit hard by this pandemic – I hope that some of the legacy of fear and mistrust can be overcome as we all try to work our way out of it.

74 comments on “Africa, African-Americans, and the Coronavirus Vaccines”

  1. Sleepless in La Jolla says:

    I would like to add that the hunt for Osama bin Laden dealt lasting damage to polio vaccination efforts. Remember, that to find bin Laden, US agents posed as a vaccination team and took DNA samples to find bin Laden’s blood relatives in Pakistan. Subsequently, there were attacks on vaccination teams due to this betrayal.

    I think that this was an incredibly egoistic move that advanced a short-term US interest at the expense at global public health. We don’t know how many children in Pakistan will now suffer and die of polio and other vaccinatable disease due to the shattered trust in western vaccine efforts.

    1. Daniel Jones says:

      Doctors Without Borders needs to outright get indictments against those responsible for the false vaccination crew as it also has put their doctors under increased threat of getting killed.

      1. Adrian says:

        If this part of the operation was discussed at the National Security Council, approximately the following people would have to be indicted for that:

        I doubt it would do much good to the cause of vaccines if the US government would indict them today.

        But it would be good if Derek would not ignore the most recent major event when writing about anti-vaccine arguments.

        1. KazooChemist says:

          That image has been doctored to show them in business attire. This is the original:

        2. Bush League says:

          Well, remember from 2016, that Derek had gladly voted for the GOP pre-Trump. So the torture regime regime under Bush and the Iraq War were A-OK, but some crude words from Trump were a step too far. So it’s no surprise that he is in no hurry to bring to light one of the many examples of how disastrous the War on Terror has been.

          This is why I can’t stand the Never Trumpers. They had no problem with the inhumanity of the Bush administration, which means that their opposition to Trump is more style than substance.

          1. loupgarous says:

            New America’s figures for Total Strikes and Fatality Estimates, tabulated by US administration,
            show under Obama, 7 times as many drone attacks occurred as under Bush (353 to 48),
            more people identified as civilians died under Obama as under Bush (129 – 162 compared to Bush’s 116 – 137),
            and more “militants” including clan members of militant leaders (1,659 – 2,683 compared to Bush’s 218 – 326).
            That last figure of “militants” includes teenage clan members of militant leaders.
            All told, Obama killed between 2,366 – 3,702 people with drones compared to Bush’s 399 – 540.
            So, when you say

            “Well, remember from 2016, that Derek had gladly voted for the GOP pre-Trump. So the torture regime regime under Bush and the Iraq War were A-OK, but some crude words from Trump were a step too far. So it’s no surprise that he is in no hurry to bring to light one of the many examples of how disastrous the War on Terror has been.

            you seem to be in a great hurry to overlook whose administration was the real killing machine. I have no great love for George W. Bush, his and Rumsfeld’s incompetently handled “Surge” killed my son and thousands of others on both sides.
            But leave Derek out of this. Obama’s Democrat administration was much more murderous in its determination to keep Obama’s campaign promise to go after militants in Pakistan.

        3. dearieme says:

          Clearly “John” is to blame.

    2. RA says:

      It’s interesting that in response to a discussion of Black people’s justified fear of medical research, the counter-attack is on Obama’s foreign policy. Seems like you all are implying that if some tactic of the CIA under Obama backfired, then that means that black people’s mistrust of research is not worth discussion. Don’t really see the logic there.

      Regardless of what you think about the CIA’s tactics it has little to do with what is discussed in this post.

      But since a couple of you brought it up, its worth noting that:

      – Trump’s withdrawal of the US from WHO will likely do far more to harm global vaccination campaigns than that raid.
      – Trump has been an inspiration to anti-vaxxers:

      Given your very admirable concern about children with polio, I am sure that Trump’s actions concern you greatly. Right? RIGHT?!?!

      1. loupgarous says:

        You’re the one who moved the discussion to Bush’s foreign policy and the putative hypocrisy of #nevertrumpers.

        1. RA says:

          I think you have me mixed up with the commenter “Bush League!”

          1. loupgarous says:

            my apologies.

      2. Chris Phoenix says:

        I saw that post more as a “yes-and” than a counterattack. It focused on the actions, not on the political party in the White House at the time. The category of action was lying about medical care to a population on the downhill side of a power imbalance. The effect of the action was to reduce trust in vaccines. That’s definitely worth bringing up.

        1. loupgarous says:

          I agree, for what it’s worth, but the administration that promised us “unprecedented transparency” needed to actually be transparent in its actions once it gained power. The people who performed medical procedures on the poor in Pakistan under falsely informed consent was in violation of the Nuremberg Code/Helsinki Declarations.

        2. RA says:

          Haha, it was “Yes, and” without the “Yes.”

          Post: Black people have concerns about medical research
          Reply: Black president undermined vaccines in Pakistan (then exaggerate the impact of that)

          Obvious deflection/blame the victim BS.

        3. Sleepless in La Jolla says:

          As a democratic socialist who voted for Obama, I think we should call out terrible public health decisions independent of the political affiliation of the deciders. This decision had clear public health consequences.

          I would like to thank Derek for shining the light of his blog on to the many injustices that less-privileged populations have experienced at the hand of medical science, in this case focused on African-Americans and Africans. I posted a “yes, and” reply to add another example to the discussion, although I apologize for momentarily distracting from the focus of the post. I think that the readers of this blog have a clear interest in advancing public health, and I think we all can recognize that short-sighted decisions in the name of “progress” can have much larger ramifications by destroying trust into science that advances public health, and needs to stay unpoliticized.

    3. Edgewise says:

      😒 Wait—Are you implying that this was a “bad” thing? C’mon—_SERIOUSLY_??(!)

      What’s more infuriating? That there are people who actually hold such an opinion? Or that among such people are those who have *no problems* sharing such a reprehensible POV in public?

      How sad…

    4. Javara Nova says:

      US arrogance and entitlement knows no bounds.
      Perhaps the entire operation was in vain anyway… considering the Pakistanis swore black and blue that the US triumphant celebrations were actually celebrating “The Day of Killing the Dead” since, they claimed he was already long-dead. Futile on two fronts then.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It is important to acknowledge past injustices and never forget that we may very well repeat them.

    At the same time, the current media climate that is hell-bent on hyper-racializing every possible affront or disparity (real or perceived) is just as likely to drive modern skepticism of vaccines and public health as are the Tuskegee experiment.

    We are driving ourselves mad with social media and traditional news media. I think we will overcome the COVID-19 pandemic despite this, but it will be more painful than necessary.

    1. Anonymous2 says:

      Yeah the paragraph about the Nigerian antibiotic study seems especially convoluted.

      Nigeria has a literacy rate of like 50% in rural areas, even worse as you get far flung (where most polio cases are).

      Are we really to believe that some poor subsistence farming mom sees a vaccination team coming and says “whoa whoa whoa folks, not so fast, I read allll about that ethical board dilemma at Pfizer regarding trovafloxacin disclosures back in the 90s…”

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        As it turns out, I think that are really to believe that. Here’s a review of the vaccination problems in Kano, which cites the Pfizer incident as an important factor:

        It’s mixed up in the Islamic politics of that part of Nigeria and its relations between the central government, but the Kano state government actually banned the polio vaccination effort for about a year in 2005. Later on they cited the Pfizer case as one reason, perhaps ex post facto, but there are people who have had no compunctions about sticking all of these together whether that was the proximate reason or not (

        Muslim leaders across northern Nigeria have welcomed the latest court actions against Pfizer, saying it vindicates their long-held view. “All we were trying to tell our people is to be wary of these [Westerners] who pretend they want to help us because they’re actually killing us,” said Abdullahi Sadiq, the imam of a mosque in the Fagge District of Kano. “We’re happy the government is finally seeing our point.”

        See also

        “This incident was on everyone’s mind when WHO personnel showed up in Kano with an American-made vaccine for polio eradication. The authors indicate that resistance to the vaccination program was political and somewhat irrational, and that pressure from the WHO, the United Nations, and the U.S. government resolved the crisis. There was a political dimension to this problem, but people were wary of any medicine from the United States.”

        1. Anonymous2 says:

          But the actual quote you relay from the clerical messengers to these would-be vaccine recipients belies that it has anything to do with Pfizer or the trial at all; rather, the mishandled trial (or its mishandled approval, or its mishandled paperwork) was merely used to “vindicate” their “long held view.”

          In other words, _any_ slight, perceived or real, by western influence, would have sufficed in this scenario. Ie, the Plos One paper found that the tail wagged the dog…

          Given that your references were written just as Boko Haram era (and the wondrous prosperity and tranquility that it brought – [sarcasm]) took off in northern Nigeria, how can it possibly be used as a legitimate justification for skepticism?

          1. Stanislav Radl says:

            Everything is probably true, but the Pfizer trovafloxacin trial saved indisputedly lives of many Nigerian children. Probably it was not easy to get proper official approval in Nigeria…

      2. Vgirl says:

        Dude, why do you think you need a hyper-specific example of a past wrongdoing to inspire skepticism about experiments like these in underserved populations? That sort of fear exists within the collective consciousness since the days of colonization, you hardly need a recent example to be cynical of the West. And rightly so! Legacies of colonialism and exploitation don’t lend much credibility to current efforts. Given that misdeeds by Western institutions are still going on in Africa, even in the twenty-first century, a lot more work needs to be done to repair those broken relationships.

      3. Javara Nova says:

        In those areas it’s not necessarily about illiteracy, it’s about trusting ANY outsiders, let alone foreigners.

  3. Adrian says:

    When talking about polio, you forgot to mention much how real and continuing harm Barack Obama has done to the global fight against polio by making it impossible to eradicate polio from Pakistan in the foreseeable future.

    Under President Obama the CIA used the pretense of polio vaccinations for identifying Osama bin Laden.

    Many of the (usually unfounded) suspicions about polio vaccinations in Pakistan are not worse than what is confirmed the US government has actually done under President Obama, and scores of (usually female) health workers in Pakistan are being killed due to that.

    I would guess this is also well-known to anti-vaccine people in the US, giving a lot of credibility to claims about hidden agendas behind COVID-19 vaccines.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      That was indeed an astonishingly bad idea, and I hope that I am not leaving the impression that I am defending it. Keep in mind, for all my anti-Trump fervor, I voted against Obama twice. That means that for the Trumpers, people like me might as well be Che Guevara, while a lot of the left considers us irredeemable fascists anyway. It’s a lifestyle.

      1. Adrian says:

        You are repeatedly saying not so nice things about anti-vaccine activists, but don’t even mention this recent “The US government was using vaccination only as pretense for” case. You are calling them dangerous idiots, and as always in the US (or here in Europe) it is of course the Russians who are to blame.

        Against your mixture of ranting and facts, an anti-vaccine activist could very convincingly counter by asking whether Derek did mention this case. I might initially discard something like that as being far too immoral for being true, but once I discover the truth other absurd anti-vaccine arguments would sound less absurd to me.

          1. Adrian says:

            It is not “framing” when the guilt of the Obama administration is beyond any doubt on this.

            Blaming the Russians or whomever else you might want to make the sole scapegoat might work well in your filter bubble, and it is convenient for you.

            < 5% of the population in the US are so strongly against vaccinations that they refuse to have their children vaccinated. The rest can be convinced of a working and safe vaccine.

            You cannot convince people that they are wrong when you are in denial about the part of their arguments that are factually correct.

          2. RA says:

            “Sole scapegoat” – your words, not mine. You have mightily knocked down the straw man you erected…congratulations!

            The idea that the average American anti-vaxxer cares about what happened in Pakistan is absurd!

          3. Adrian says:

            Why do you consider the idea absurd that the average American anti-vaxxer might care about the undisputed fact that the government of the United States of America just a few years ago did do fake vaccinations for a completely different purpose?

          4. RA says:

            Because there is no evidence for the connection between US anti-vaxxer views and the events in Pakistan. It’s just your talking points/speculation. It’s ridiculous on its face too. Anti-vaxxers are hardly the people who are swayed by “indisputable facts.” It’s the opposite, actually.

          5. Javara Nova says:

            A decent study on vaccine ingredients and their side effects… especially long-term side effects is all people need to be mistrustful. Don’t need to go into conspiracies.

        1. mallam says:

          Against Obama twice? Explains a lot. Even though you came from Arkansas, living in Massachusetts so long should have reformed you. I grew up nearby in Missouri, but now and even then wanted the country to improve in how people treated each other, how the government would stand to help people in need, how the military can’t solve all our problems. And while this may comes at the cost of higher personal taxes, I’ve always been willing to pay it.

          1. Anon says:

            Most people are single issue voters. In his case, he’d probably vote for anyone who will lower his taxes. Sad but true.

    2. Jim Hartley says:

      “Under President Obama …” means it happened when Obama was president. Not that he knew or suggested or approved. According to accounts I read, he asked CIA for better intelligence on the Abbottabad compound, resulting a dozen crazy and semi-crazy CIA ideas, one of which resulted in someone knocking on the gate with the polio vaccination ploy. “Here’s what we came up with, Mr. President, nothing worked.”

      1. Martin (still not Shkreli) says:

        I agree with you on that. It is entirely believable, even probable, that B. Obama did not know the specifics of the CIA operations.

        That being said, he WAS POTUS, and the oval office is where the buck stops. So: is he responsible? Ultimately, yes, without a doubt.
        Just like D. Trump is responsible for the kids in cages and the bungled federal response to COVID-19.

  4. RA says:

    Thanks for addressing an important topic. The distrust among blacks towards medical research has a pretty solid basis.

    However, there are a couple of additional points that should be made:

    First, data show that being white is an independent predictor of being an anti-vaxxer:

    Second, black people often have lower rates of actual vaccination in large part because they have less access to quality health care.

    When there is a COVID-19 vaccine and initial supplies are limited, which communities will get it first, and which will have to wait?

    I think we know the answer.

    1. Adrian says:

      Your “independent predictor” only means that they failed to search for the actual root cause.
      Most likely more specific research would find that this is mainly because relevant groups (vegans? orthodox jews?) happen to be predominantly white in California.
      It would not surprise me if Tesla ownership would be a predictor.

      The more important result from this study is actually that vaccination skeptics in California are not stupid people, these are people with a college degree and a high income job.
      You won’t convince people with a college degree and a six figure income with your “this is only Russian propaganda” arguing.

      1. RA says:

        Dude, I don’t know how much you know about America, but California is not a mostly white state. In fact, it is one of a handful of states in the US that is majority minority. In any case, my point is I don’t see any evidence of a groundswell of anti-COVID-19 vaccination sentiment among black people in the US. Got any evidence for that? A few random tweets don’t count.

        You are so obsessed with defending Russia. You doth protest too much. Interesting day to do so when the news is breaking that Russians were paying Afghan militants to kill American soldiers.

        Seems like there are people using this blog to advance their anti-American agenda…strange!

  5. steve says:

    I think Fauci said it best. “Obviously the African American community has suffered from racism for a very, very long period of time and I cannot imagine that that has not contributed to the conditions that they find themselves in economically and otherwise,” Fauci said while testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

    1. Masks? says:

      Fauci also recently admitted that the reason that they told people masks were ineffective at the start of the outbreak was because he didn’t trust people not to buy up all the PPE from healthcare workers. People don’t trust the new mask recommendations because of how quickly the orders change, and now we know they were lying at the start.

      How is this something that doesn’t hurt the credibility of public health officials?

      1. Klagenfurt says:

        Um, I get your points about everyone being condescending, inconsequential, and lying. That said, how do the followers of the flag you are flying suggest we deal with the pandemic? Perhaps you think it’s a hoax to bring down anarcho-capitalism.

      2. x says:

        Was Fauci’s assessment wrong on its face, though? We know that healthcare workers had trouble getting PPE in a lot of places, and we also know it’s critical to protect the people who are actually doing the medicine or else you end up with no medicine.

        In the longer view, sure, he’s probably damaged credibility – but the government and the scientific and healthcare fields are already suffering from a major credibility vacuum that you probably weren’t lamenting as loudly a month ago.

        1. Joe Clarkson says:

          Fauci needed better psychological advice on how to handle the face mask shortage.

          If he had said that “face masks work great, they help medical staff stay safe, but there is a shortage of masks” then it would have all worked out just fine. More than half the population would have believed him and also realized that it was their responsibility not to buy medical grade masks and create a shortage for medical workers.

          The rest of the population would have thought that because he was part of the ‘deep state’, they could not believe a word he said. They would refuse to buy masks because masks were obviously part of a some kind of nefarious government plot, perhaps to kill them by “activating the virus”.

          The result – very few people buy medical grade masks. Truth promoted and problem solved at the same time.

  6. Lane Simonian says:

    I come to this site primarily to learn some science but today I also learned a bit of history. I learned considerably more about drug trials in Africa, which sad to say in my case had previously been limited to the semi-fictitious film the Constant Gardner (a very good film).

    As a fairly good judge of historical work, I appreciated the writing and analysis provided in this post. The impact of the past on the present is often deeper and more pervasive than “outside” groups realize or understand. To paraphrase William Faulkner: the past is not dead; it has not even past yet.

  7. Simon Auclair the Great and Terrible says:

    Zap your cytokine storm.

  8. Daren Austin says:

    It wasn’t only syphilis, of course. Malaria for shorter sentencing?

    We now have vivax challenge experiments, but we have informed consent (and rescue treatment). Malaria was once considered a treatment for syphilis.

    1. aairfccha says:

      Not just considered, the 1927 Nobel price for medicine was awarded for that therapy.

  9. dearieme says:

    “If you’re imagining a few amoral ringleaders …”: nope. I dislike the use of amoral for immoral.

    I have a nasty suspicion that there will have been other immoral experiments performed in the US, on God knows whom. And not just the US.

  10. Professor says:

    Derek, can you explain why we’re in such a rush to produce a vaccine when even Fauci admits that a ‘good’ vaccine might require 5-10 years of research and trials, and that lethal outcomes of CoVid-19 are “considerably less than 1%”?
    Multiple stories about use of the falsified data by some of those standing to profit the most from the vaccine pioneers don’t instill confidence either. This is just one example:
    “A Guardian investigation revealed that the U.S.-based company Surgisphere, whose handful of employees include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, has provided data for multiple studies on Covid-19 co-authored by its chief executive, but has so far failed to adequately explain its data or methodology.”
    As for Africa, the same major players that have been heavily invested in vaccine research, are also among major sponsor of GMO production for Africa, China and India, which majority of the population in those countries oppose.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Quite a shotgun of claims there – I’ll field this one, but don’t expect me to necessarily do this over and over. As for your first, well, the belief is that even a suboptimal vaccine is better overall than letting the coronavirus rip through the world’s population. You will also note that the article you refer to was from back in March, and that we have even more data on the effects of the virus now. The fatality rate is one thing, but its other effects are going to be a real burden, some of it long-term.

      To your second point, it would appear that you have missed the entire post I did when the Surgisphere story imploded ( Your connection about how “standing to profit the most from the vaccine pioneers” doesn’t make much sense, either.

      Finally, GMOs? You seem to start from the assumption that these are bad, prima facie, and I just don’t agree. I see this sort of argument fairly often, though – people will link some person or organization to GMO research and stand back with a smile as if they’ve just exposed someone’s evil secret.

      1. Charles H. says:

        OK, GMOs. Potentially GMOs could be a real benefit. But since they are proprietary, the claims to benefit are quite dubious. Farmers are prevented from replanting. Etc. Yes, the F2 generation would not be as good, but if you have to go into debt to buy your seeds…

        Often is seems the GMO varieties are designed much more for the benefit of the corporation selling them than for the benefit of anyone else. If I knew more I might say quite often, or even usually. Perhaps our skill level isn’t great enough to do better, but really! Many of them seemed designed more to sell pesticides than to produce crops. They have strongly contributed to extinctions. Clearly they aren’t the only factor, but they’re contributory.

        You could argue reasonably, I suppose, that the main culprit here is not the GMOs per se, but rather the intellectual property laws that they are created under, and that could have a lot of merit. But it doesn’t avoid the problems.

  11. nobody says:

    This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario for vaccine trials. Test on non-whites and the cancel culture mob will scream that non-whites are being used as unwitting test subjects. Don’t test on non-whites and the cancel culture mob will scream that the medical needs of non-whites are being “erased.” The constant, of course, is that the cancel culture mob just likes to scream about racial injustice even if the injustice only exists in their own minds. Such is the nature of a moral movement invented to make left-leaning politics palatable to the tech sector wealthy.

    1. Dr. Electrode says:

      “…even if the injustice only exists in their own minds. ”
      Let’s get it right. Racism is alive and thriving in the US. It ranges from the avowed racists of the KKK and Aryan movements to the people who really do not believe that white privilege exists. Yes, some people are reflexive and will scream about imagined slights without consideration.
      That your first statement vaccine trials is correct in no way supports your conclusion about “…a moral movement invented to make left-leaning politics palatable to the tech sector wealthy.”

      1. x says:

        “That your first statement vaccine trials is correct in no way supports your conclusion about ‘…a moral movement invented to make left-leaning politics palatable to the tech sector wealthy.'”

        In fact, it has had the opposite effect: allowing people who are economically right-wing to brand themselves as principled and caring people (or corporations, as though they could care about anything but profit!). Actual left ideology and working class solidarity are shoved out of the public discourse by endless identitarian slapfighting. The worst of the bunch are the professional grifters in the Democratic Party who handwring about oppression and injustice for the cameras while helping to sustain it in legislative houses and executive mansions.

    2. Olandese Volante says:

      From where I’m sitting, I see most of the screaming being done by MAGA-hat-wearing, AR-15-toting, anti-vax anti-mask “plandemic” conspiracy cranks (talk about intersectionality, heh) along the “hey Bill Gates wants to test vaccines in Africa and you SJW snowflakes are alright with that?” line of rethoric.

      1. RA says:


        I find it fascinating that those who rail against cancel culture, exaggerate them as mobs (a few people tweeting is scary indeed!) seem to get very worked up about the travails of the wealthy celebrities most of whom tend to survive being “cancelled” just fine.

        Yet, the truly pernicious cancel culture is that being inflicted on public health officials by mostly right wing individuals who are threatening actual violence against public servants trying to do their best in a very trying situation.

        This is the cancel culture that actually impacts your life.

    3. x says:

      The cancel culture mob has been empowered by people deigning to take it seriously – that is, either they take its claims seriously, or they take its bullying seriously.

      The cure for this sort of thing is for a sufficient number of people to tell it to go to hell, and while that has been tried until now with only limited success, I would say a growing number of people across politics and culture have had just about enough of these screaming children and their faux-justice posturing.

    4. David says:

      “This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario for vaccine trials. Test on non-whites …. Don’t test on non-whites …” ”

      Your phrasing of the problem implies that the only possible solutions exist in a segregated system.

  12. loupgarous says:

    The record of illegal and immoral human experiments on African-Americans is the discrete set of bad acts from which we can begin estimating actual damages which need to be repaid – and the right set of specific plaintiffs. The worst injustice to the families impacted by the Tuskeegee experiments would be for their money to go to someone else.

  13. Simon Auclair the Great and Terrible says:

    Seem to have forgot link on treating covid with x ray of lung. Effect is immunomodulatory.

  14. Steven says:

    A few years ago, people were making the opposite arguments around ZMapp, an antibody cocktail that was used to treat Ebola. The first doses were given to westerners who caught Ebola in Africa, not African healthcare workers. For instance, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, a top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone died of Ebola even though a dose of ZMapp was available nearby:

    “‘What they really didn’t want to do was kill Dr. Khan with their attempt at therapy,’ said Dr. Armand Sprecher, a public health specialist at Doctors Without Borders. ‘If word got out that M.S.F. killed Dr. Khan, that would have implications for outbreak control,’ he added, using the initials for the French name of the relief group.” (

  15. Kaleberg says:

    The Tuskeegee experiment/atrocity cast a long shadow.

  16. Richard says:

    Melinda Gates has stated that blacks should be first in line to get any CV vaccine. Given the record of Gates product rollouts, we can call them beta-testers. I am the farthest thing from an anti-vaxxer but I have learned not to trust Gates stuff until it has been around for a while. This could end up being another Tuskegee scandal if she gets her way.

    1. NMH says:

      Except that Bill / Melinda Gates are not making the vaccine, some pharma company will be. And I don’t think the scientists are going to throw Gates nanochips in with the vaccine proteins. Nanochips just taste to good to waste here, barbeque flavor. Mmmmmmmmm…

  17. RA says:

    You kind of forgot to mention that she said health care workers should get the vaccine first.

    Seems like there is a movement afoot to cynically parley black people’s legitimate fear of medical research into higher rates of black vaccine hesitancy.

    Really something to claim concern for black people while spreading disinformation that will increase the probability of harm to them.

  18. Yoyo says:

    Why dont you run some piss poor uniformed commentary about how the fda dropped the ball by not making enough tests available…….sounds plausible-ish and hey it might just get trump unelected!!!!:).

    1. NMH says:

      I think the only argument you could possibly could use against Derek is I don’t think he supports he supports the idea that Medicare can negotiate drug prices with big Pharma, like the rest of the world’s countries governments do, which is a huge kickback and job maker for pharma at the cost of the American taxpayer. But then again, no president has ever pushed this because they all appear to be bought off by the pharma lobby.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Derek mentioned, “Japanese experiments on prisoners of war and occupied civilian populations” which were carried out by Unit 731 (link in handle). I read a few books on 731 and when I got to grad school, I started reading research works by Hamao Umezawa and his brother, Sumio Umezawa. HU bios clearly indicate that he was an MD who had served in the Japanese Army before and during WWII. One or more of the Unit 731 books had mentioned a Dr. Umezawa in Unit 731 in China. It is known that the head of Unit 731, General Ishii (wikipedia), was granted immunity from prosecution for war crimes in exchange for information about Unit 731.

    After WWII, HU became head of the Institute for Microbial Chemistry in Tokyo which discovered numerous challenging targets for synthetic organic chemists (many of which became effective medicines). I tried (weakly) to find out if HU (IMC, Tokyo) had served in Unit 731 but I couldn’t find an answer in English. Is there anything in the more complete Japanese language bios and histories to shed light on whether Hamao Umezawa, a chemistry “hero”, served in Unit 731 in China?

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  21. David G Whiteis says:

    If Donald Trump plans to hand over American distribution of a vaccine to the military as he has suggested, this will deliver a fatal blow to the possibility of widespread acceptance of vaccination among African -American people. In the wake of Tuskegee, the mustard gas experiments on Black soldiers in World War II. the Agent Orange debacle, the threatened militarization of urban police forces, and so many other examples that can be cited, can you honestly envision most Black folks trusting this at all?

  22. Stefan says:

    Probably a lot of people heard what happened in Norway with old people who were vaccinated. Because of this situation, people in Nordic countries have less trust in vaccines now. Take into consideration that vaccines can help everything get back to normal, people are skeptical about it. There is also strange trend, a lot of services like renting warehouse space, for example lager i Malmö, became popular in Sweden

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