COVID-19 vaccine uptake among African American populations continues to lag in at least 40 states, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor report.
The percent of white people who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose (49%) was 1.2 times higher than the rate for African Americans (38%) in Missouri in early August.
As of Aug. 14, 51% of Missourians have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 43% is fully vaccinated.
In St. Louis, over 45% of St. Louis County residents are fully vaccinated with significant disparities across ZIP codes, according to public health officials in early August. Parts of West County have about a 70% rate compared with about 35% in North County, which has a predominantly African American population.
The We Can Do This campaign hosted a live virtual press briefing on Aug. 11 where medical experts, including a trio of local doctors provided COVID-19 vaccine information.
Dr. Rachel Villanueva, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine and National Medical Association president, said, “It is important that we get the message out that the pandemic is not over. If you do not get the vaccine, the delta variant will find you because infections are escalating in unvaccinated individuals.”
Villanueva addressed why many African Americans are not getting vaccinated.
“We know that Black and brown communities have been subjected to an unequal healthcare system for many years, including barriers to access, implicit bias, and structural racism,” Villanueva said.
“We know that many individuals distrust the medical system because of poor treatment in the past, in addition to the community being subject to blatant misinformation that has caused doubt about the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines.”
The physicians discussed building confidence in the vaccines, the importance of getting adolescents and young adults vaccinated, and the delta variant. They stressed how safe the vaccine has been for pregnant women, which has been a topic of debate.
Dr. Michele Benoit-Wilson, an OB-GYN at WakeMed Health in Raleigh, North Carolina, said, “Our unvaccinated pregnant population is at risk. There has been no increased risk of miscarriage that have been vaccinated prior to pregnancy or in early pregnancy. We have also seen no increased risk in fetal malformations or higher risk in pregnant women who have received the vaccine.”
Dr. Cameron Webb, senior policy advisor for equity on the White House COVID-19 Response Team, said, “I think equitable opportunity includes equal access to, and distribution of resources like vaccines, therapeutics and even COVID tests. It’s important for us to make sure we are having these conversations and share information to fight for equitable health programs to prevent health disparities.”
The delta variant is emerging as the dominant form of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to health officials in the briefing.
“With this version of coronavirus, you get 1000 times the normal viral load in the noses of individuals we are swabbing for the virus, which is significant because it spreads faster and we see that it is infecting younger individuals who are getting sicker,” Webb said.
The need to address this trend is crucial because of the recent rapid rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths, a sharp decline in vaccinations, the emergence of the more contagious delta variant, as well as the misinformation and myths that continue to persist about the virus, Webb added.