NEWARK, NJ — Denarra Simmons knew she always wanted to live in Newark. “It’s a good place,” the senior scientist with Merck says of her home city, where she raises her family on the same block her mother grew up on.
Education was a top priority in their household, where it was viewed as a crucial tool for “social mobility.” But even in her family, there’s a certain level of distrust when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine and the role of researchers such as herself – particularly in the pharmaceutical industry.
“Everyone knows about the Tuskegee Experiment,” Simmons said, referencing the 40-year study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service that involved hundreds of Black men in Alabama.
The participants were never told they were infected with a potentially deadly disease, and were never given proper medical treatment. It ended in 1972, and has since become one of the most infamous examples of medical ethics violations in American history.
Simmons, whose work involves running tests to determine the stability of new drugs, has a unique perspective on the pandemic and the fears surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. After all, she’s not just a scientist, she’s a wife and mother of two living in the hardest-hit city in Essex County when it comes to death and case counts.
And there’s one thing she wants doubters to keep in mind: You can trust science.
It’s a lesson Simmons tries to impart to her own children when she’s cooking dinner for the family, telling them to “think about the science” as she sneaks in lessons about chemical reactions.
“In the COVID-19 era, we’re seeing misinformation about science that leads people to debate about and question the validity of scientific recommendations and innovations,” Simmons said.
“Those of us in the scientific community have an important role to play in standing up for science right now to build awareness and trust in what we do – right now when America needs it most,” she emphasized.
Simmons is one of the people sharing their stories as part of #ScienceWorks, a campaign that aims to boost the public’s confidence in biopharmaceutical research amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The campaign is spearheaded by We Work For Health of New Jersey with support from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
According to the group, there are more than 60,000 biopharmaceutical sector employees in the Garden State. And some of them, including Simmons, are on the forefront of a “pivotal moment” in the industry.
“New Jersey scientists like Denerra Simmons are not only advancing critical research innovations that make a difference in our lives, they are also a vital part of our communities,” said Dean Paranicas, co-chair of We Work for Health and president/CEO of HealthCare Institute of New Jersey.
“They are our family members, our neighbors, our friends and volunteers,” Paranicas added.
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