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Private contractors hired by Moderna to recruit volunteers for its coronavirus vaccine trial failed to enrol enough Black, Latino and Native American participants to determine how well the vaccine works in these populations, company executives and vaccine researchers told Reuters.

To make up for the shortfall, Moderna slowed enrolment of its late-stage trial and instructed research centres to focus on increasing participation among minority volunteers, the company said.

The effort is being bolstered by academic researchers who have longstanding relationships with organisations in Black and other minority communities.

Covid-19 infects Black people in the US at nearly three times the rate of white Americans, and they are twice as likely to die from the virus, according to a report by the National Urban League and other studies.

And communities of colour count prominently among healthcare workers and populations at high risk of Covid-19 complications, making them among the first likely to be eligible for a new vaccine, experts said.

Dr Paul Evans, chief executive of Velocity Clinical Research in Durham, North Carolina, whose company was hired to test the Moderna vaccine at five sites, said efforts to enrol volunteers from diverse backgrounds to provide proper population balance is “notoriously difficult” in any clinical trial.

“If there’s a problem with recruiting minorities, and there is, you can’t fix that overnight,” he said.

Black Americans made up only about 7% of the trial as of 17 September. That should be closer to 13% to reflect the actual US population.

During the last two weeks of September, Moderna said it increased the proportion of Black enrolment, but declined to provide details.

Increased trial participation could help address distrust between communities of colour and the medical industry after years of underrepresentation in pharmaceutical research, historical horror stories of medical experimentation without consent, and socioeconomic and health access inequities, vaccine experts and public health officials say.

Moderna is one of the furthest along in the US race for a vaccine and has received more than $1bn in government funding to develop and produce its candidate, and another $1.5bn to supply it to the American public.

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