On Genetic Diversity and Vaccine Studies
Last week, I expressed my outrage that Moderna had delayed its Covid-19 vaccine trials to ensure that it had “enough” diversity in its vaccine subjects, a concern I deemed unscientific that cost thousands of lives. I got some pushback to the effect that there is evidence that people of different genetic backgrounds sometimes have different reactions to vaccines, and thus genetic diversity in research subjects is important.
Let’s assume arguendo that such differences are frequently enough medically significant that it is worthwhile to ensure genetic diversity in vaccine research subjects (i.e., the volunteers who receive the vaccines during the research phase). The problem is that Moderna (and other researchers), following FDA regulations, is not looking for genetic diversity, but diversity as defined by U.S. statistical categories–white, Asian, African American/black, Native American, and Hispanic. While regulations ensuring representation from each category may increase the diversity of research subjects, they are very poorly designed to do so.
I noted in my previous post that “Asian American” as used in government statistics is an incoherent category, encompassing everyone from Caucasian Indians to East Asians to Austronesian Filipinos. Similarly, Hispanic is a linguistic/cultural category not a genetic one; African American encompasses everyone from Ethiopians, who are more closely related genetically to Jews than to sub-Saharan Africans, to those sub-Saharans, and includes people with substantial Native American and European heritage; and white includes people with origins everywhere from Ireland to Yemen and Afganistan.
So let’s say a pharmaceutical company is looking to meet FDA guidelines, and also satisfy activists, by ensuring representation from American statistical groups. The company has its subsidiary in Ireland do its “white” testing locally. But wait! DNA researche
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