Racial divide narrowing in NC’s vaccination drive, but still a long way to go

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Black people in North Carolina are receiving a growing share of doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, state data show.

The percentage has grown steadily over the past several weeks, with 12 percent of the 1.4 million shots given by providers in the state going to Black people, according to figures updated Tuesday.

That figure was at 10 percent two weeks ago, and 8 percent in late December when the shots were given only to health care workers.

But even as that number has gone up — and as the vaccine has been made available to an increasing number of people — it still trails the group’s proportion of the state’s population. Black people account for 22 percent of the 10.5 million people in the state.

That group also makes up more than 25 percent of the state’s health-care work force.

“Of course, it could be going better, but I think what we’re seeing right now is, from the center’s perspective it’s not a surprise,” said Michael Scott of the Durham-based Center for Black Health & Equity. “It’s not unexpected.”

Of the 17 states that break down their vaccination totals by race, North Carolina ranks third in terms of the share of those shots going to Black people. Maryland is first at 16 percent, followed by Mississippi at 15 percent.

COVID-19 has hit minority communities disproportionately hard, with Black people accounting for 25 percent of the more than 9,000 deaths caused by the pandemic.

“What we’re having to deal with, specific to this vaccine, is a lot of history, a lot of medical mistrust, a lot of systemic issues that are putting up roadblocks,” Scott said. “When we look at who’s getting COVID-19 mostly, we’re looking at minority populations, we’re looking at front-line workers, we’re looking at folks with lower socioeconomic status.

“Piling on COVID-19 to the other issues, we were expecting to see this,” he said.

Scott says COVID has begun to “rise to the top” of the priority list “as far as where we’re focusing energy and resources” of the center — which initially formed to combat the use of tobacco, specifically mentholated cigarettes, among Black people, before evolving into all areas of health care equity.

One of the missions of the center, he said, is to provide the community with accurate information from trustworthy sources, from doctors to respected people from other organizations.

“We definitely want to push accurate information and push them to talk to their primary care physician about the vaccine, because we know the vaccine is effective, so we want folks to get it,” he said. “But we’re not telling folks, ‘All right, you need to get it and this is why.’ We want them to make that decision on their own with the accurate information.”

One real concern is the digital divide that can prevent that information from reaching people without reliable internet access. Many vaccine appointments must be made online.

“We’ve got to look at other ways to get that information to those specific communities, and also put some of those communities higher on the list as far as outreach to the communities, to educate them about the vaccine and outreach,” Scott said. “Maybe some physical outreach — even though (with) COVID-19, (there are) lots of restrictions.

“Some of these populations need that face-to-face contact. They might need a piece of paper, they might need a phone number to call, because they might not be able to get online to input their information to get on a waitlist,” he said.

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March, 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.

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