Local expert addresses issues with getting vaccines into minority communities

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Fewer minorities are getting vaccinated in Florida against COVID-19 compared to people who are white.

Of all the people who have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the state, only 5.6% are Black and 9.9% are Hispanic. That’s compared to 66.4% going to people who are white.

We’re taking a closer look at some of the factors that might explain why.

First, accessibility.

Last month, the local NAACP sent a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry and other city leaders demanding more be done to provide vaccine sites to underserved areas of Duval County.

We know several local churches received vaccines to give to their congregations last month. The city also offered vaccines at senior centers on the Westside and in Mandarin -- and a 2-day clinic on the Northside.

The Walmart on Lem Turner Road started offering drive-up vaccines on Thursday.

And on Wednesday, the federal government is opening a vaccine hub at the Gateway Mall, also on the Northside. It’s one of four opening around the state in low-income communities of color.

The other factor that may be driving the low vaccine numbers among minorities is concerns about the vaccine itself.

Dr. Kevin Stephens with United Healthcare explained why some in minority communities might not trust the vaccine.

“Because of the speed. It just came out so fast. People have not had a chance really to get their arms around this vaccine process. This happened lightning fast in terms of the development of vaccines. We broke the world’s record in getting the vaccine for the virus,” Stephens said.

But Stephens said he works to dispel that myth with facts

  • 500,000 have died in a year from COVID-19
  • African-Americans and people of color have a death rate twice as high as other communities
  • African-Americans and Latino communities have a higher prevalence of underlying health conditions

“If you’re at higher risk, you need to protect yourself even more because of the risk,” Stephens said.

He also said he has to counter the belief some people carry that getting the vaccine will make them sick with the virus.

“This is a whole new technology that is totally different than any other vaccine that we have had. This uses messenger RNA. It’s not a dead virus. If you look at the influenza virus, it’s a crippled virus. But this is not a virus. So you don’t get the virus with this vaccine at all,” Stephens said.

He also wants people to understand another important point.

“The vaccine does not stop you from getting the virus,” he said. “It just helps your immune system that if you come in contact with it, your body has built up an immunity, you can fight it off before you have the serious side effects.”

United Healthcare has a new online COVID-19 vaccine resource locator tool at UHC.com.

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