For too many Black families in this country, there are empty seats at the table and a painful reminder of lives lost to COVID-19. The disturbing statistics around the racial disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to mount. Black Americans are becoming infected with the coronavirus at a rate three times that of White Americans and are twice as likely to die from the virus. And most upsettingly, about 1 in every 1,000 Black Americans have died from COVID-19 since February.
Fighting a pandemic is complex, and there is no single problem that leads to death tolls like we’re seeing every day in the news. But, in the COVID-era, we’re seeing a heightened disregard, debates, and even denial of science and its role in our lives, among a fatigued and restless public. But as the pandemic rages on, the communities most harshly impacted are those of color — especially the Black community. That’s why as a scientist myself, I know that more than ever, we need to put our trust in science — and follow practices that scientists recommend — to save lives — especially Black lives.
For anyone skeptical of scientific positions or innovations right now — whether it’s public health measures like mask-wearing, research findings about the virus, or the safety and efficacy of forthcoming vaccines — here are three things I wish everyone knew about scientists like me and the work we do:
We have so many opportunities — now, during the pandemic and well beyond — to improve the health of our communities, but that will require embracing science and all it can offer us. This is all why I’m lending my voice to #ScienceWorks, a new effort organized by leaders in the biopharmaceutical field to spotlight the stories and perspectives of researchers like me and the communities we love. I hope that, by putting a face to the field, I can spark the same love for science that was sparked for me in grade school, when I listened to a career day presentation from a Black chemist who talked about creating drugs to help sick people. That day was a revelation. I had never seen a Black man in a lab coat before, and it opened up my eyes to a career that I didn’t know existed just the day before.
Last year was enormously painful for Americans but most especially for the Black community — there’s no denying that. But there are reasons to be hopeful. A new year is here. COVID-19 vaccines are on their way to us, with more innovations coming: biopharmaceutical researchers are working on more than 1,500 active COVID-19 trials, including 500+ unique therapy trials and 50+ unique vaccine trials. But these vaccines and therapies will only be successful if Americans trust them enough to take them. That’s why at the end of the day, what I want to emphasize is that science is not the enemy. Scientists aren’t your adversaries. We’re your neighbors. And in the face of the health threats we face today and tomorrow, we must collectively move towards that way of thinking — if we want to actually make strides against the pandemic and save lives.
Denarra Simmons is a Senior Scientist at Merck. The opinions expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Merck.
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