Charles H. Hennekens

Black Americans Have Far Greater Risk of Death from COVID-19 Than Whites Interview with:

Charles H. Hennekens

Dr. Hennekens

Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH
Sir Richard Doll Professor
Senior Academic Advisor
FAU, Boca Raton, FL What is the background for this study?

Response: Blacks and other disadvantaged minorities in the United States have markedly reduced life expectancies compared with their white counterparts.  As is the case with most fatal diseases, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is already taking a disproportionate toll on blacks and other disadvantaged minorities. What are the main findings?

Response: As of April 14, in the United States, 32 percent of deaths from COVID-19 occurred among blacks who comprise only 13 percent of the population. These numbers indicate that they have a 2.3-fold excess risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to white Americans. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Historically there have been marked increases in racial inequalities following lifesaving drugs for HIV, respiratory distress syndrome, and hepatitis C as well as the experiences before and after the development of the Salk vaccine for polio. Before the introduction of the vaccine in 1952, initially, blacks experienced significantly lower rates of paralytic polio than white Americans. By 1959, after the widespread dissemination of the Salk polio vaccine, the reverse was true.

Blacks and other disadvantaged minorities have unacceptably high mortality rates from COVID-19 and most other chronic diseases that confer their markedly reduced life expectancies. We must certainly try to overcome all the barriers facing blacks and other minorities in the United States to reduce or eliminate racial inequalities in mortality  but, realistically this is a long term goal. Now is the time to address short-term clinical and public health challenges to ensure equal access to any lifesaving innovations, including drugs for treatment and vaccines.

The urgency of the addressing these issues  are only enhanced by the recent public pronouncements concerning remdesivir as a promising but unproven treatment for COVID-19 as well as very recent encouraging news about an accelerated timetable for the development of an effective and safe vaccine. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We need to address the urgent short term clinical and public health challenge to ensure equal access of blacks and other minorities to any drugs of lifesaving benefit as well as vaccines for COVID-19.  We also need to address the equally urgent long term clinical and public health challenges to  reduce or eliminate racial inequalities in mortality. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Professor Levine, Dr. Johnson, and Professor Maki have no disclosures.  Professor Hennekens reports that he serves as an independent scientist in an advisory role to investigators and sponsors as Chair of data monitoring committees for Amgen, British Heart Foundation, Cadila, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, DalCor, and Regeneron; to the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI), legal counsel for Pfizer, the United States Food and Drug Administration, and UpToDate; receives royalties for authorship or editorship of 3 textbooks and as co-inventor on patents for inflammatory markers and cardiovascular disease that are held by Brigham and Women’s Hospital; has an investment management relationship with the West-Bacon Group within SunTrust Investment Services, which has discretionary investment authority; does not own any common or preferred stock in any pharmaceutical or medical device company

With renewed thanks and best regards.


Racial Inequalities in Mortality from Coronavirus: The Tip of the Iceberg

Robert S. Levine, MD, Heather M. Johnson, MD, MS, FACC, FAHA, Dennis G. Maki, MD, Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH

Published: May 19, 2020DOI:
American Journal of Medicine


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May 21, 2020 @ 11:50 pm 

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