RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Black people in North Carolina have received the COVID-19 vaccine at a rate twice as high as several other nearby states that disclose their demographic information.
The state Department of Health and Human Services says 10 percent of the more than 238,000 doses of vaccine administered over the past month have been given to Black people.
The rate trails that group’s proportion of the population but has grown over the past several weeks as the vaccine has been made available to an increasing number of people.
In Virginia, the state Department of Health reported 5.1 percent of its nearly 238,000 doses have gone to Black people. That figure is just under 5 percent in Florida and 3.8 percent in Tennessee, according to the health departments in those states.
Demographic breakdowns were not available for South Carolina, Georgia and West Virginia.
All those percentages trail the share of those states’ populations made up of Black people by a considerable margin, including in North Carolina, where African Americans make up 22 percent of the state’s 10.5 million people.
The share vaccine doses going to Blacks has gone up in recent weeks, after it was 8 percent in late December — when the shots were being given only to health care workers.
But don’t expect a quick fix, said Dr. Crystal Cené of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
“This is like cooking a home-cooked meal. This is not fast food,” she said. “So I think it’s a mistake for health systems to think that, ‘Well, we can just kind of tell you, come on, get your vaccine,’ and people will run to do it. They’re not.”
Vaccine hesitancy is rooted in distrust, from the Tuskegee syphilis experiments to the eugenics movement, she said.
“We’re dealing with having to overcome hundreds of years of structural racism and structural inequities that make people legitimately concerned about government interventions if you will,” Cené said. “It’s difficult. It requires a lot of effort. It requires partnerships in the community.”
The Rand Corporation, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, surveyed more than 4,000 people and found many people don’t recognize the connection between systemic racism and public health. It also found nearly 70 percent of Black people who responded say they don’t trust the government.
“So that’s going to be an important barrier to overcome,” said Brian Quinn, an associate vice president for research, evaluation and learning for the foundation.
“There’s also a lot of vaccine hesitancy in general, so I think the public health community is going to need to step up its efforts around messaging and around outreach to ensure that all Americans have access to the vaccine.”
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, has stressed the emphasis the department has placed on health equity during its COVID-19 response.
And health experts say it’s important to engage community and faith leaders, and other influential voices in the community with the goal of getting skeptics to listen to the data — if not the voices of those influencers themselves.
“Every community has individuals who can critically look at the data, parse it out and see for themselves whether the data is speaking correctly or not, and I think that’s what’s important to see,” said Dr. Deepak Kumar, director of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnological Research Institute at North Carolina Central University.
“If the data is speaking the right way and a member of the community or somebody who you trust or a person of color, if I may, is saying that, then I think there is every reason to believe.”
Cené says it’s going to take patience.
“That’s playing the long game,” she said. “There’s no guarantee we’re going to do any of this and it’s going to, all of a sudden, make people run to get the vaccine. I think we have to commit the effort.”
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.