Black and Brown people are underrepresented in COVID-19 vaccinations compared to the white population, according to national, state and local data.

Looking at data from the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on national health issues, 81 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines distributed in North Carolina have gone to white patients, despite the white population making up 68 percent of the state. In comparison, 12 percent of vaccines have gone to Black patients, who make up 21 percent of the population, and just 2 percent of the vaccine has been administered to Latinx individuals who make up 10 percent of the state.

When looking at county-level data, the disparity widens. In Forsyth County, 77 percent of first-dose vaccines have gone to white individuals (who make up 67 percent of county), 16 percent to Black (28 percent of county), and 3 percent to Latinx (13 percent). In Guilford County, 74 percent of the vaccine has gone to white individuals (56 percent), 20 percent to Black (35 percent) and 2 percent to Latinx (8 percent).

“Vaccinations are the key to ending this terrible pandemic,” said Cone Health CEO Terry Akin in a recent public statement. “But how can we quickly end it by leaving so many people in our community behind? Whites are taking the vaccine in big numbers, others aren’t.”

Findings have already shown that Black and Brown individuals are more likely to become sick and die from COVID-19. According to the most recent state numbers, 62 percent of the state’s overall COVID-19 cases have been white, 21 percent Black and 22 percent Latinx. In Guilford County, Black people make up 36 percent of COVID-19 deaths as of Feb. 12 and in Forsyth County, 29 percent of deaths are Black based on the most recent numbers from Jan. 16.

“Black and Brown people are significantly more likely to contract COVID-19 and have bad outcomes or die,” said Dr. Padonda Webb, the interim executive director at the NC A&T University student health center in an email to Triad City Beat.

Local leaders including those with universities as well as local hospital systems are working to close the disparity gap in who is receiving the vaccine.

“NC A&T is committed to doing our part by providing access, creating PSAs to encourage people to get vaccinated and educate our community to trust the science,” Webb said.

On Feb. 11, the university began vaccinating members of the general public who qualify for the vaccine. The move came a few days after the university began vaccinating staff, students and faculty who were eligible under the state’s current vaccine timeline. Currently, healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents and individuals 65 and up, are eligible for the vaccine in North Carolina. The next group will include frontline essential workers.

“Our goal is to encourage Black and Brown people to trust the science,” Webb said. “This is not a Tuskegee experiment or a Henrietta Lacks story. The SARS virus is not new and has been studied for years. We are hoping community members know that NC A&T would not stake its reputation on something that was not well-studied and scientifically safe.”

Webb is referring to the fact that COVID-19 is a disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, otherwise known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

Despite the disparities that exist in who is most likely to get sick or die from the coronavirus, Webb said marginalized communities may have a harder time trusting a large-scale vaccine rollout because of systemic racism in the nation’s healthcare industry. That lack of trust combined with lack of access and misinformation may contribute to the disparities in who is receiving the vaccine, Webb said.

“Distrust, politics and lack of access are all issues that create barriers for Black and Brown people getting vaccinated,” Webb said. “A lot of Black and Brown people do not trust the Trump administration. We need to strategically place vaccine clinics in trusted areas like churches, HBCUs, community centers, etc., where Black and Brown people often feel a sense of trust.”

Webb said that the university is requesting 350 doses of the vaccine per week but that what they receive depends on how many the state ultimately doles out.

Black and Brown communities may be less likely to get the vaccine because of lack of access, information and mistrust for the health care system. (courtesy photo)

State Sen. Paul Lowe, who represents Forsyth County, told TCB that Shiloh Baptist Church, where he is a pastor, will be participating in a pilot program to vaccinate members of the general public starting on Saturday. He said that they hope to vaccinate at least 200 people each week.

“When you have it at a church, the African-American community, we trust our churches,” Lowe said. “Our churches have been places we can trust; it makes things easier. I’ve had people come to me and ask, ‘What do you think about the vaccine?’ and I tell them I think it’s safe to take the vaccine.”

Shiloh Baptist Church, located in northeastern Winston-Salem, follows in the footsteps of another predominantly Black church in Greensboro that has partnered with Guilford County to rollout the vaccine. Mount Zion Baptist Church, located off Alamance Church Road in Greensboro, is one of three locations run by the county where members of the public can go to receive the vaccine.

“We are continuing to focus on Black and Brown communities,” said Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County public health director, during a press conference on Feb. 10. “We want to make sure we are addressing all of the issues and mistrust. We are targeting and doing outreach in various communities in the county.”

According to Kenya Smith, communications manager for the Guilford County health department, the county is working with churches, cultural groups and service groups to increase awareness about the vaccine. Smith said 35 percent of each COVID-19 vaccine shipment that the county receives is designated to historically marginalized populations.

In Guilford County, 35 percent of the COVID-19 vaccine is being reserved for marginalized communities (courtesy photo)

Laura Garduño Garcia with Siembra NC, a Latinx advocacy group, said one of the biggest barriers for members of the Latinx community is lack of reliable information.

“I’m hearing from members that there is a lot of misinformation that’s being spread,” Garcia said. “They may not know where to turn for reliable information and because they’re not talking with a lot of people who are getting vaccinated….”

To offset the misinformation, Siembra NC created a video with facts about the vaccine at the end of January that was shared on social media. The organization’s members are still working on developing more resources, Garcia said. She said one of the reasons why the vaccine distribution disparity exists may be because of language barriers or work commitments.

“People need to have access to that open window,” Garcia said. “They have to know when vaccine appointments go public and they have to have some sort of technological savvy experience handling the phone or browsing. They have to say, ‘I need someone to speak Spanish.’ They have to have the availability to call.”

In Forsyth County, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Novant Health are working with the county to increase access to the vaccine for historically marginalized communities. A Feb. 12 press release stated that the county has partnered with the Winston-Salem Transit Authority to offer free transportation to vaccination appointments, which are now available on weekends and evenings.

Garcia also brought up a point that runs counterintuitive to the way most states are currently rolling out vaccines.

“It’s mostly Black and Latinx people that are getting sick and mostly working-age groups of people,” Garcia said. “So, I understand the importance of vaccinating people who are older but if we want to be effective, we’re going to have to look at who’s getting sick and vaccinate those people first. These people are also the caregivers and they’re working in the long-term facilities. They are the essential workers who are keeping us going. They are contracting the virus for the sake of the rest of our lives. It doesn’t make sense to start with an age group. We need to look at the people who are getting sick.”

It is unclear when the next group of individuals — frontline workers that would likely cover the people that Garcia is talking about — will be eligible for the vaccine. Those who work in child care or in pre-K schools will be eligible for the vaccine starting on Feb. 24.

“The biggest challenge is that we need more vaccine,” said Sen. Lowe. “The bottom line is we need more vaccine so we can make sure as many people are vaccinated as we possibly can.”

To schedule a vaccine appointment at NC A&T, call 336-285-2950. For Shiloh Baptist Church, call 336-724-9263. To learn more about where to sign up to get the vaccine in Guilford County, visit healthyguilford.com or call 336-641-7944. For Forsyth County, visit forsyth.cc/covidupdate or call 336-582-0800.

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