COVID-19 vaccine trial recruiters explain widespread distrust, misinformation among potential enrollees

Jorge David Gutierrez, a recruiter for Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine trial based in Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, has encountered a significant amount of distrust among the public while trying to enroll participants, he told STAT.

Mr. Gutierrez focuses on recruiting participants of color for Moderna's trial. The drugmaker recently said its enrollment process has been stalled due to its failure to garner enough Black, Latinx and Native American participants.

"If we want to make sure this vaccine works for everyone, then we need to include everyone," Mr. Gutierrez told STAT.

If someone demonstrates even a slight hint they could be interested, Mr. Gutierrez told STAT he makes sure to explain that the vaccine trial will involve about six visits over two years and that it won't cause participants to be exposed to the novel coronavirus or develop COVID-19.

Nicole Taikeff Gabela, also a recruiter for Moderna's trial, told STAT many people aren't aware the vaccine candidate does not contain the whole novel coronavirus. The synthetic fragment of the virus used in Moderna's vaccine contains only enough for the body to recognize the pathogen, but the entire virus must be present for someone to contract COVID-19.

Mr. Gutierrez also said he takes care to not use the word "investigacion" when having discussions in Spanish, as this word can connote that law enforcement is involved. He told STAT the conversations he has while recruiting enrollees often involve discussing people's grasp on immunology as well as their fears about deportation.

He also shared that he encounters a significant number of people who relay conspiracy theories about the vaccine to him, including his own mother. 

"If I haven't been able to change my mom's mind, would I be able to change the mind of some stranger outside of a health center? Maybe. But most likely not," he told STAT.

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