The Volokh Conspiracy

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"Diversity" Nonsense Cost Tens of Thousands of Lives

Moderna Delayed its Vaccine Trials to Ensure it had "Enough" Minority Representation


CNBC in September (but I just saw this today): "One of the developers in the lead for a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, is slowing enrollment slightly in its large clinical trial to ensure it has sufficient representation of minorities most at risk for the disease, its chief executive said."

This is particularly egregious because apparently Moderna felt the need to ensure sufficient representation of Hispanic Americans. Even if you buy the dubious notion that there is a significant chance that vaccines will have significantly different effects by "race," what race are Hispanics supposed to be, exactly? The average American Hispanic is about 3/4 European by descent, based on DNA studies. Essentially, then, Moderna allowed tens of thousands of people to die to ensure that "enough" white people who happen to have Spanish-speaking ancestors were included.

Like many stupidities, the very unscientific focus in biomedical research on having subjects that match official American racial categories is the product of government policy. [ADDED: To be more explicit, Moderna was following FDA rules mandating that the clinical trials have diverse subjects, with diversity based on the scientifically arbitrary racial and ethnic classifications established by the Office of Management and Budget in 1977 for civil rights enforcement purposes. At the time, the OMB warned that the "classifications should not be interpreted as being scientific or anthropological in nature." This did not stop the FDA (and NIH) from institutionalizing them into medical and scientific research. That said, Moderna likely went beyond the minimum that the FDA would accept to avoid outrage from those who insist on something like proportional representation.]

Even if, unlike me, you believe in "race" as a biological concept likely to have significant medical consequences, our American civil rights/affirmative action categories don't make any sense in that regard For example, we put Caucasian people from India in the same "racial" category as East Asians such as Chinese and Austronesians such as Filipinos. Indians and most Filipinos are not genetically close to East Asians, but are 40% of the "Asian American" population. When medical statistics are reported about "Asian Americans," we have no idea how things broke down among Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, and other groups, or even whether and to what extent the different groups were represented.

A chapter of my in-progress book on American racial classification (preview here) will discuss this in detail, but a shorter version can be found here. [BTW, if we have any readers with relevant medical/scientific expertise who would be interested in "peer reviewing" my chapter, please let me know.]

Serious question: Why did I only hear about this today? Why wasn't there mass outrage when this was reported in September?

[cross-posted on Instapundit]

UPDATE: Some readers have questioned where I got the notion that American Hispanics are, on average, mostly European in origin. The answer is from this study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics: "On average, we estimate that Latinos in the US carry 18.0% Native American ancestry, 65.1% European ancestry, and 6.2% African ancestry." That's a bit off from the 3/4 I cited but:

(a) those figures add up to only 90%, the rest is assumedly unknown, so if you add 10% or so to each, you get up to 71.5%. Maybe it's a bit lower, maybe a bit higher. And

(b) then you have to consider the fact that the study uses the "Latino" category, whereas I (and FDA-approved studies like Moderna's) use "Hispanic." Hispanic Americans include non-Latinos whose ancestors (or themselves) immigrated from Spain, and who are 100% or so European in origin. Plus, you have self-described "Hispanos," Americans in the Southwest descended from Mexicans who lived in the territories conquered by the US in 1848. Their origins are overwhelmingly Spanish, and they generally don't consider themselves Latinos, but would likely identify themselves as "Hispanic." So between Spanish immigrants and their descendants and Hispanos add a percentage point or two, and you get that the average self-identified Hispanic American is "about 3/4" European by descent. If someone is aware of alternative estimates published in scientific journals, please let me know.