2/11/2021, 6 p.m.
We have grave concerns about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine efforts and how those disproportionately impacted by the potentially fatal virus seem to be last on the list to receive inoculation against it.
We are talking Black and brown people.
According to state Department of Health data Wednesday on the 764,493 people who have received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, and for whom racial and ethnic information is available, 71.5 percent are white, while only 12.1 percent are Black and 5.59 percent are Latino.
No racial and ethnic data was available for 162,279 other people who also have received at least one dose of the vaccines.
State officials acknowledge that their data collection system is flawed. And Dr. Danny Avula, who now heads the state’s COVID-19 distribution efforts, acknowledged this week some of the problems that are preventing equitable access to the vaccine, particularly for people in low-income and rural communities.
The barriers are numerous. Congressman A. Donald McEachin, who represents a district that includes Richmond and Petersburg, enumerated many of them in a letter to Dr. Avula and Dr. Norman Oliver, the state’s health commissioner.
He said in the correspondence that he has received “multiple complaints” from constituents about difficulty trying to register on health departments’ websites to get the vaccine, as well as continuously busy call center lines and a lack of communication to those on waiting lists.
He expressed concern about the lack of resources available in Black and brown communities and a “lack of coordinated distribution and administration efforts” in rural communities and communities of color.
Last week, City Councilman Michael Jones roundly criticized the lack of access to vaccination sites for high-risk populations in South Side. He said four ZIP codes in the city that have had 60 percent of the city’s COVID-19 cases since mid-December were farthest away from the major vaccination sites at the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center in Richmond next to The Diamond and the Richmond Raceway in Henrico County.
Three of those ZIP codes are in South Side, an area that Dr. Jones represents; all four areas have the largest non-white populations in the city.
In the wake of Dr. Jones’ criticisms, Richmond health department officials quickly organized five small vaccine events last weekend to reach Black and Latino residents in South Side, the East End and North Side. At least two were at Black churches in South Side and North Side.
“Bringing vaccines directly to communities who may have difficulty finding or filling out our interest form is critical to our equitable vaccine distribution framework,” one official said.
Still, we continue to hear reports from Black people in Richmond and Hampton Roads questioning whether these events at Black churches are simply window dressing designed to provide a false sense of equity with the vaccine distribution.
Several noted that the churches only had a few slots open for church members to receive the vaccine. All other slots were already taken by people pre-registered and contacted by local health departments. They questioned whether Black churches simply are being used as clinics for the health department to vaccinate people who are not part of the community.
Similar questions are coming from pharmacies in Black communities that have doses of the precious vaccine to distribute, but who are not seeing their regular patrons and community members being served because the word isn’t getting out as quickly in Black and brown communities.
Many people, including elected officials, also questioned whether Black and brown people and seniors will be left out who don’t have access to computers or the internet.
Dr. Avula acknowledged that lack of technology is an obstacle. We submit that these obstacles can be overcome.
While those in charge of the state’s vaccination program have expertise in medicine and public health, which is critically important, they clearly lack the skill and proficiency in logistics that has severely hampered the vaccine’s equitable and successful distribution.
We agree with Dr. Jones: No more excuses. “Everyone deserves easy access, a plan, to get the vaccine,” he said.
We urge state and local officials to engage additional people with new ideas based in experience and ability to get the job done.