2 HBCU presidents join COVID-19 vaccine trial, want students to follow

'We are not guinea pigs,' tweeted a respondent. 'Ask government officials to be first in line, not us.'

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The presidents of two Louisiana historically black colleges and universities have announced their participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial, and they are encouraging their students to do the same. 

Walter M. Kimbrough of Dillard University and C. Reynold Verret of Xavier University released the joint statement on Sept. 3. 

They wrote: “Overcoming the virus will require the availability of vaccines effective for all peoples in our communities, especially our black and brown neighbors. … It is of the utmost importance that a significant number of black and brown subjects participate so that the effectiveness of these vaccines be understood across the many diverse populations that comprise these United States.”

“We appeal to the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Dillard, Xavier, and our sibling institutions to consider participating in this trial or others being conducted,” the statement continued. “The people and communities we serve look to us as an example. Our participation in such studies will help find ways to better fight the pandemic.”

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On Twitter, respondents were critical of the decision. 

“As an alumni, I am deeply disappointed by this. We are not guinea pigs,” one user wrote. “Ask government officials to be first in line, not us. Shame on Verrett.”

Dillard University President Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough speaks on stage at the 2019 ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

Many Twitter users compared the presidents’ participation in the trials to the Tuskegee experiment where Black men were unknowingly studied for untreated syphilis. 

“As an HBCU student, I am disappointed in this decision especially seeing the results of African Americans being experimented on,” one user wrote, “ Including the Tuskegee one that was led by one of our one, history repeating itself.”

“The students at HBCUs should definitely sign up for vaccination experiments,” another wrote. “AFTER the students at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford.” 

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“They will get the money to do the studies that will have few black folks involved,” Kimbrough responded on Twitter, “We should push that black institutions get major money to lead the studies and treatment including vaccines.”

“I will use this analogy: If you jump off a cliff, you’re going to hit the ground,” Verret said to NBC News. “You can jump off a cliff with a parachute or you can jump off without one. I want the parachute. A vaccine is the parachute. I want it for my children, for my neighbors. That’s all this is about.”

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