Missouri’s troublingly slow COVID vaccine delivery to the state’s hardest affected areas coexists with COVID vaccine hesitancy among African Americans and other people of color. They are among the populations that have been hardest hit with illness and deaths from the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus during this pandemic.
“The state has the authority and is providing the guidance on us getting the vaccine, but it’s our plan and infrastructure we’ve built to be able to deliver the vaccine,” said Damon Broadus, director of Health Promotion and Public Health Research for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
“We can do 5,000 vaccines a week right now to be able to get to the penetration we need in St. Louis County.”
To increase COVID vaccine acceptance in north St. Louis County, the Health Department tapped Broadus, and Rochelle Walton Gray as the vaccine community outreach coordinator, to talk about the COVID vaccine rollout in the community. They are trying to encourage residents to at least pre-register to receive the vaccine when it becomes available.
“We want to make sure we tell everyone to please get registered,” Walton Gray said. “The registration, you’re not making an appointment, you’re just getting on the list, and then when your time comes, you can decide yes or no. We hope you decide ‘yes.’”
She said even if you don’t want to take the vaccine immediately, you should pre-register because, as the county receives more doses of vaccine from the state, some time will pass before the Health Departmet calls to make the vaccine appointment. Then, she added, you can declare your decision at that time.
“But you don’t want to not get on the list, and then it will take you even longer” to get the vaccine, Walton Gray said.
A graphic provided by the Health Department shows individuals pre-registered by ZIP code as of Feb. 1, revealing low participation in several areas of north St. Louis County. Pre-registration is as low as 3% in some north county communities and as high as 39% in the central part of the county.
“The pre-registration trends are consistent with pre-existing racial and socio-economic disparities,” stated Dr. Sam Page, St. Louis County executive. “With our pandemic response, we are working aggressively to reverse these trends.”
For some people, hesitancy in taking the vaccine is a matter of historic mistrust of a health system that has not always been fair or equitable to Black people. Some people are leery because they feel the vaccines were created too quickly.
Others are aware that the COVID vaccine is being made available, but they are waiting to see how others who look like them fare after taking the vaccine before they attempt to get it themselves.
“I know several people who did not want to take the vaccine just yet, but they went ahead, and they’ve done it, because they see people that they trust getting the injection,” Walton Gray said.
“If you have some misgivings about it, find someone you trust in the medical field and talk to them. Even if you want to wait a month or two, that’s fine, but don’t have those misconceptions about a ‘black dose’ vs. a ‘white dose’ or, ‘they are doing testing on us.’”
Broadus received his second dose of the vaccine last week. With both doses, he experienced some soreness where the vaccine was administered in arm. He also had a headache with the second dose.
“I’d rather take that pain and the shot, because of the risk,” Broadus said.
Walton Gray has not received her first COVID vaccine yet. “I’m at the bottom of the list of tiers,” she said.
Broadus and Gray are regularly meeting with a group of at least 20 community leaders to disseminate accurate messages about the vaccine and how it can be beneficial to individuals, families and the community at large who desperately want to get back to whatever “normal” will be after the pandemic.
The North County Outreach group on vaccine acceptance is chaired by Bishop Lawrence Wooten Sr., Williams Temple Church of Christ.
Members include Cordell Whitlock, Community Action Agency of St. Louis County; John Bowman, St. Louis County NAACP; Mike McMillan, Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis; Karen C. Nelson Warren, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri; Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones; Ferguson Mayor Ella Jones; Chris Krehmeyer, Beyond Housing; Bishop Elijah Hankerson, St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition; Erica Williams, A Red Circle; Rebecca Zoll, North County Incorporated; Geoffrey Soyiantet, Vitendo 4 Africa; Dr. Monique Williams, Mound City Medical Forum; Kendra Copanas, Generate Health STL; Monsignor Mark C. Ullrich, Archdiocese of St. Louis North County Deanery; Dr. Rance Thomas, North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice; Angela Pinex, Spanish Lake Community Development Corporation; Alex Fennoy, Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce; and Yolanda Lockhart, National Panhellenic Council — St. Louis.
“This group of community leaders will help us reach our most vulnerable and the historically underserved,” Page said.
“We must engage communities that are under-represented to ensure everyone has access to the vaccine.”