COVID-19 vaccine trials starting this week on Navajo

WINDOW ROCK

Volunteer vaccine trials with Pfizer-BioNTech for COVID-19 will be starting this week on Navajo, President Jonathan Nez announced last Friday on Facebook.

“A vaccine is needed to end the pandemic,” Nez said, adding that trials are occurring across the U.S. and “it’s important that the Navajo people have an opportunity to participate in a Phase 3 trial.” The post drew immediate backlash and suspicion.

The common sentiment among many people who responded to the post was that they don’t want to be used as “lab rats” or “guinea pigs.” “Hell no!” read several responses.

Laura Hammitt, director of infectious disease programs at the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, who is overseeing the COVID-19 vaccine trials on Navajo, said the choice to go with the Pfizer trial was vetted by health professionals who serve the Navajo Nation. These include the Navajo Department of Health, the Indian Health Service and tribal health providers.

Hammitt has been working with the Navajo Nation since 2011 and is part of the COVID-19 testing coordination team at the Navajo Health Operations Command Center. “There were a number of people who came together to look through the trials that are ongoing,” she said. “There was good support for the Pfizer vaccine based on the preliminary data they had on the safety and the antibody response.”

Hammitt said Pfizer has done clinical trials in collaboration with the Navajo Nation before. Pfizer’s goal is to enroll 30,000 people from across the U.S. in the Phase 3 vaccine trials. So far they have enrolled approximately 23,000. Hammitt hopes that several hundred Navajo will choose to participate in the study, which has also been approved by the Navajo Nation’s Human Research Review Board.

She said the review board was established in 1996 to critically and carefully review all research to ensure that it offers potential benefit to the Navajo Nation and is conducted in an ethical manner and protects the rights of participants.

Source: The Navajo Times