Dani R. Merriman
The National Museum of American History empowers people to create a just and compassionate future by exploring, preserving, and sharing the complexity of our past. At the heart of the museum are the dedicated professionals who care for its audiences, national collections, resources, messages, buildings, and scholarship, all in service to the people of the United States. From its nearly 800,000-square-foot home on the National Mall and through numerous online channels, the museum welcomes millions of people every year from across the country and around the world, free of charge. Because COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color, the need for diverse pools of test subjects for a vaccine has become especially crucial. Yet America’s long and complex history of unethical medical experimentation in communities of color has made many community members hesitant to participate in clinical trials. By researching and collecting materials related to the ethical imperatives that shape the development and implementation of clinical trials for an effective COVID-19 vaccine, the National Museum of American History seeks to document and collect around efforts to rectify and address ethical lapses which have long impacted and shaped medical research. Two Leading Edge Fellows will conduct research on the role that religious institutions and community organizations are playing in encouraging community participation in clinical trials. The Fellows’ research will include efforts by the National Institute of Health’s COVID-19 Prevention Network’s (CoVPN) Faith Initiative. Led by a minister, CoVPN’s Faith Initiative uses seven “faith ambassadors” and more than 30 clergy-consultants from the Black, Latinx and American Indian/Alaska Native communities to assist in efforts to diversify clinical testing pools for COVID-19 vaccines, as well as to promote the vaccine rollout in 2021. The Fellow will research the ethical parameters for COVID-19 vaccine trials as determined by law and then conduct oral histories of individuals involved in CoVPN’s Faith Initiative. Oral histories will explore the role religious leaders played, or did not play, in ensuring that COVID-19 clinical trials reflected the diversity of the American experience. Oral histories conducted by the Leading Edge Fellows will assist the museum in identifying objects, such as ethical protocols, public health materials, test kits, and vaccines, which are central to documenting this story for museum visitors and researchers. By researching and identifying aspects of COVID-19 vaccine trials and the vaccination program as it unfolds, the Leading Edge Fellows will enhance understanding and interpretation of the museum’s world-class collections of historic vaccinations and immunotherapies.