Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

The unrelenting spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the United States of America in 2020 continues to pose an unprecedented public health crisis for all Americans, but in particular for Black Americans and other people of color who are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.

As the trusted voice of Black America, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) in March of 2020 established the NNPA Coronavirus Task Force as a means of increasing public awareness about the overall preexisting health disparities in Black America, and about the disproportionate fatal consequences of COVID-19 for Black Americans and other people of color.

In fact, the NNPA and our Coronavirus Task Force were the first to issue a national “State of Emergency” declaration on April 3, 2020, to warn Black Americans and others about the evolving dangers and public health risks of COVID-19.

Earlier this year there were just too many myths and misinformation circulating, primarily via social media, that falsely asserted “Black people and people of African descent were immune to COVID-19 because of the presence of melanin.” Of course that assertion was not true. Yet unfortunately, too many people in our communities began to risk exposure to COVID-19 because of those types of falsehoods and misinformation.

The media has a responsibility to research and to report the truth. This year marks the 193rd year of the Black Press of America. Since Freedom’s Journal was first published in March of 1827, the Black Press has remained on the front lines of publishing and speaking truth to power by demanding freedom, justice and equality.

All of this brings me to state categorically that Black Americans have to be involved at all levels of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to be silent, detached, denied or prevented from being at the decision-making tables in terms of COVID-19 public health policies, research, clinical trials, remedies and vaccine development. Our lives and future are at stake.

The good news is that today there are many Black American physicians, infectious disease scholars, clinicians, medical researchers, nurses and others on the front lines as first responders and as inside leaders within the major pharmaceutical companies that are striving to develop a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19.

We are profoundly aware that within our communities there has been a historical and a contemporary distrust of medical research. The challenge today, however, is for more Black Americans to be involved at every point of the development of a COVID-19 vaccine to ensure that the medical rights and interests of Black Americans are thoroughly protected, respected and addressed, effectively and truthfully.

In other words, Black American engagement is crucial and critical in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, including participation in clinical trials to make sure that it is effective to prevent Black people and others from COVID-19 infections.

Three years ago, the NNPA, Howard University and Pfizer collaborated to do a national landmark poll and study on Black American awareness on sickle cell disease (SCD). This was important because Black Americans are disproportionately impact by SCD across the nation.

Included in that NNPA-Howard University-Pfizer poll was the issue of Black Americans’ willingness to participate in clinical trials with respect to SCD. We were pleased to learn and to document that 76% of the Black American poll respondents had a positive or neutral attitude toward SCD clinical trials, and a majority indicated a willingness to participate in future clinical trials for SCD, given appropriate knowledge and recommendations from health care professionals.

It is urgent that, in the strategic rush now to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine for all people, Black Americans are not left out of the process. The health of our families and communities necessitates our involvement to raise all the questions that need to be raised, and at the same time to participate responsibly in the COVID-19 clinical trials.

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA); he can be reached at

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