Sister Circle: How a group of Black doctors are fighting vaccine equity, providing opportunities


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The pandemic has shined a light on racial inequities in the country. Yet, state and federal health leaders are still struggling to address vaccine equity among minorities.

Six Black female doctors at WakeMed formed the group Sister Circle in an effort to chip away at the inequities.

Dr. Michele Benoit-Wilson is one of those doctors. She’s an OB-GYN at WakeMed and has had COVID-19 infections and deaths in her own family.

“That was a one-two punch to our family and the ramifications have been far-reaching,” Benoit-Wilson said.

Now she’s sharing that personal experience with every jab in the arm and with those still unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccines.

After working with community partners and putting on vaccine clinics, Sister Circle has vaccinated 14,000. Of those, 80-percent have been African American.

“There’s no financial interest in what we are doing whatsoever. We went into medicine because we wanted to serve our communities,” Benoit-Wilson said.

The group was formed after Dr. Rasheed Monroe, another WakeMed doctor worked at a vaccination clinic.

“Where are the Black people? Where are the Latinos? Where are the folks of color?” Benoit-Wilson said Monroe asked.

That served as a call to action for them.

Monroe approached WakeMed and said if they could supply the vaccines, she could supply the arms.

The group partnered with local organizations to get the word out.

Within 48 hours, Sister Circle was able to get 450 people of color to come in for their COVID-19 vaccine.

Today, they worry about the delta variant and the speed it which it’s running through communities.

“This delta variant has changed the game,” Benoit-Wilson said.

Numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed nationwide, 45-percent of new vaccinations are in white people, while 15-percent in the Black people and 26-percent are in Hispanic people.

Meanwhile, 65-percent of white North Carolinians have at least one dose, while only 18-percent of Black North Carolinians have at least one dose.

“I remember back last March, one of the first experiences we had was looking at the list of patients we had in our hospital and see how many of them look like me,” Dr. Cameron Webb, a Senior Policy Advisor for Equity White House COVID-19 Response Team, said.

The team is trying to get more people of color their shot at protection.

It said education and outreach by Black messengers is key to gaining trust and confidence from Black Americans.

“The nature of how fast this is spreading is when you couple it with the current vaccination rates is the reason why it’s a critical junction for the Black community,” Webb said.

To them, getting vaccinated is about keeping people safe now and from long-term symptoms after a result of infection later. It’s also about getting the conversation started on how to end health inequities all together.

“I want more for my patients than just not dying,” Benoit-Wilson said.

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