Picture a raging fire in a city and wailing fire engines racing to the places … where the flames are burning lowest.
That, in effect, seems to be the case with COVID-19 vaccinations in North Carolina.
Though African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, they are receiving far fewer vaccinations than their white peers.
Among North Carolinians who had had their ﬁrst doses of the vaccine, only 12.6% were Black and 2.3% were Hispanic; 80.37% were white, the state reported in early February.
This matters because people of color are affected by COVID at far higher rates than other segments of the population. Black and Hispanic Americans die at a rate of almost three times that of white Americans, the CDC says.
This isn’t to suggest that they're being neglected intentionally. But for a variety of reasons, it is what has been happening. And it needs to change.
Clearly, one major obstacle is access. For instance, making reservations online for COVID shots is harder in communities where internet connections are more limited.
Another is convenience. If vaccination sites are not located near communities of color, people in those communities may have a harder time getting there, especially if they are older.
Then there is the question of trust.
In Elon Poll results released last week, 47% of white respondents said they plan to get the vaccine; 17% did not and 23% were unsure.
By comparison, only 36% of Black respondents said they would get the vaccine, while 29% said they would not. Twenty-six percent of Black respondents said they were unsure.
African Americans in particular may be less trusting of vaccinations because history has taught them to be, as in the infamous, government-sanctioned Tuskegee syphilis study in which Black subjects were allowed to die.
And as late as the 1970s, this state forcefully sterilized some of its citizens, most of whom happened to be poor and Black.
Thankfully, there are some hopeful signs on the vaccine front.
In a news conference last week, Gov. Roy Cooper said Black North Carolinians comprised 18% of those vaccinated in the previous week, up from 11% a month before.
And in a plan made public last week, the Governor’s Office cited several new strategies to increase vaccinations in communities of color, among them:
- Requiring all vaccine providers to collect race and ethnicity data.
- Funneling a portion of the state’s weekly allocation of vaccines to events that focus on “underserved communities.”
- Expanding the hours of a COVID call-in line to address the public’s questions about vaccinations.
- Using “trusted messengers” in communities of color to soothe fears and concerns.
Locally, Novant Health has been doing its part by reaching out to Black and Latino residents. Two Saturdays ago, it inoculated 179 people at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in northeast Winston-Salem. It will return to the church Feb. 27 to administer second doses. Novant hopes to build on messages from trusted community members who will urge others in vulnerable communities to be inoculated.
The Black and Hispanic communities aren’t the only at-risk groups we have in North Carolina, of course. The Cooper administration is preparing to expand vaccinations to educators next week, even while other essential workers are still waiting for their shots. There’s been a little rhetorical jostling about who should be inoculated next.
This is concerning, but it’s a great improvement over the COVID denial we were seeing a year ago.
Vaccination events are on the rise, and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, said last week that the state’s dose supply was scheduled to increase.
On Friday, President Biden announced that his administration has purchased 200 million more doses of COVID vaccine to be delivered by July. That should be enough to vaccinate the vast majority of the U.S. population.
Like an arctic village in the spring, where the sun rises a little higher every day, we seem to be firmly on our way toward the end of a deep, dark night. We should all greet the sunrise together.