Bringing Lyme vaccines to the Brazilian community

Care Access is reaching out to minority communities to join clinical trial.

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Care Access is reaching out to the Brazilian and Portuguese-speaking community on Martha’s Vineyard about Pfizer’s Lyme vaccine with the help of two Brazilian doctors, Luis Russo from Rio de Janeiro and Gustavo Kesselring from São Paulo. 

“I’m very excited to be here to help local people in this important … new vaccination for Lyme disease,” Russo said. 

The doctors arrived in Boston two days ago. Kesselring said their roles on Martha’s Vineyard were to “support and to explain” to the Brazilian population about clinical trials, and how vaccinations can protect the community from Lyme disease. 

“We represent Care Access in Brazil, and we’re very excited about this model of clinical research. The name is ‘decentralized clinical trials,’” Kesselring said. 

Kathleen Koehler, a physician at Vineyard Medical Care, said the Brazilian community is “at most risk” of Lyme disease on the Island. She said this is because many Brazilian Islanders have jobs outside, such as in landscaping and construction. 

“They’re sometimes the most reticent to present for medical care,” Koehler said. She said that the vaccine’s importance is increased when children, who frequently play outside, are taken into account. The Pfizer vaccine allows children 5 years old and up to participate in the trial. 

Russo said he and Kesselring will be on the Island for a couple of days to do outreach on-Island, such as presenting information at Portuguese-speaking churches. However, they will keep “in touch with the Care Access team and Dr. Koehler” to figure out the best ways to continue communicating the vaccine’s importance to the Brazilian population on Martha’s Vineyard.

Alex Eastman, who works with Care Access on patient experiences, said another reason for bringing the clinical trials to the Brazilian community is because most of the participants of the trial so far have been “white, middle class.” 

“The more that we can have communities of different races and ethnicities participating in clinical trials, the more confident we can be that these medications and vaccines work for everybody,” he said. 

Eastman also said it was important to bring clinical trials to “places and communities that typically wouldn’t have access to them.”

“Typically, clinical trials are run at university hospitals and research centers in big cities,” Eastman said. “A trial like this for a Lyme vaccine needs to be run where Lyme disease happens.”

Joe Small, Care Access’ liaison on Martha’s Vineyard, said outreach is being done for other minority communities in collaboration with groups such as the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

“We have representatives, like myself, who are diverse in our representation. We want to connect with those individuals, and answer questions as frankly as possible,” Small, who is Black, said. “We acknowledge the history of past practices. What’s most important is informed consent, which never existed previously when you look at the historical injustices of our people in terms of serving as guinea pigs, if you will. This is different.” 

The first Lyme vaccine clinical shot was administered in late August for the trial. Small said signups for the clinical trial will be available on the Care Access website, bit.ly/3Lhw0fu, until mid-October.

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