Our people

I’m a Black woman and stroke survivor – here’s why I joined a COVID-19 vaccine trial

Kieta D. Mutepfa is a participant in the phase 3 COVID-19 clinical trials. She also uses her voice to create an impact on the world

March 4, 2021

Share this article

article hero thumbnail

When COVID-19 struck in March 2020, Kieta D. Mutepfa knew vaccine clinical trials would be on the horizon. Because clinical trials are designed to learn how our bodies respond to treatments, like vaccines, it’s key that they include a diverse pool of participants. As a Black woman who’s spent her career as a research health advocate, Kieta knew she had to get involved.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine trial to join, Kieta started by researching clinical trial sites in her hometown of New Orleans. She repeatedly checked for updates. When a phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial began looking for volunteers, Kieta added her name to the list.

A phase 3 clinical trial aims to find out if the vaccine works in a large number of people. To make sure we understand the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness profile for everyone, it’s important that the trial include people of different ages, races, ethnic groups and genders.

As a recent stroke survivor, she’s also a patient with a chronic (long-term) health condition – another key group to include in vaccine trials.

“COVID-19 has already gravely impacted the Black community,” she says. “I felt the reason I survived my stroke was so that others could live and learn. Joining a COVID-19 trial was my way of stepping in for every person that has died from COVID-19 and those at risk of dying.”

A career dedicated to research

Joining the COVID-19 vaccine trial was a no-brainer for Kieta, who’s spent years as a health advocate and is passionate about ensuring diversity in clinical trials.

During her career, she has done field research (research in the real world, outside of the lab) and worked to gain a better understanding of health care barriers for the Black community. Before joining Merck, Kieta worked at the UCLA Center for AIDS Research Education. More recently, she became a founding member of the global COVID Advocates Advisory Board. She also works with the Louisiana Community Engagement Alliance Advisory on COVID-19 awareness and education research, especially among Black Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians — populations that account for over half of all reported cases in the U.S.

Because of her vast health care and research experiences, Kieta knew that joining a COVID-19 vaccine trial would have a great impact on people around the world.

“I was scared and eager because the trials were so heavily in demand. Global interest was high among research advocates,” she says. “Friends and colleagues of mine in science were very interested in educating people about the new treatments that were being explored.”

Following science and innovation

Kieta remained confident, though, about taking part in a trial for the COVID-19 vaccine. She trusted the science.

article quote image

“It’s a whole process based on trust. We don’t even recognize that we have to trust the process of so many life events – until we are given a reason not to trust.”

Kieta Mutepfa

As part of the vaccine trial process, Kieta received and signed the trial informed consent form, which describes the purpose of the trial and possible risks and benefits. And, nurses took nine tubes of blood.

“I felt that they had a plan for every possible scenario – especially with Black trial participants,” Kieta says. “I think every possible scenario was thought of, discussed and given a lot of attention. There are a lot of the outside factors that the researchers and their teams have to consider.”

Kieta recently received her second COVID-19 vaccine. As part of the trial, researchers will check her health for another two years.

Raising trust and diversity in clinical trials

As a longtime research advocate, Kieta is proud to use her voice to impact people around the world. She also shares the company’s mission of saving and improving lives. She is doing her part to ensure that vaccine access and equity reaches people who represent diverse groups.

“We need to get more Black Americans in clinical trials, so we are better represented and can advocate for others in our community," she says.

Kieta often finds herself recalling what her fellow research advocate, Danielle Campbell, has said: “It’s not that we [Black people] are hard to find. It’s that researchers are unfamiliar with the most appropriate strategies to effectively engage us.”

“We ask that you build trust with us; engage with us and build a partnership for this journey we’ll embark on together,” says Kieta.  

A collage of diverse faces

Fighting for equity in health care

Representation in clinical trials can make a real difference