VALLEJO, Calif. (KTVU) - As health leaders attempt to pick up the pace of vaccinations in California, a glaring disparity has emerged from the statistics. The number of Blacks getting the vaccine is low.
Black people are disproportionately impacted by COVID, but some of the least likely to get vaccinated.
A black doctor in the Bay Area is trying to change that.
About 4,000 Solano County residents, ages 75 and up, received the Moderna vaccine at a large-scale clinic over the weekend at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo.
In an ethnically diverse city, workers at the site said vaccine recipients closely resemble the area’s diversity.
"What we’re seeing is slightly different than what the state has shown and published and that’s unique to Solano County and this specific location," said Omid Afshari, area Pharmacy Director for Kaiser Permanente.
Of the more than 5.7 million Californians who have been inoculated, the state reports a third are White, 16% Latino, 14% multi-race, 13% Asian, and Blacks less than 3%.
"I attribute it to a healthy paranoia about how we've been treated through the process of vaccinations, certainly culminating in the very famous Tuskegee study," said Dr. Michael Lenoir, founder of the African American Wellness Project (AAWP).
One vaccine recipient at the Solano County Fairgrounds said fears based on the history of medical mistreatment against African Americans are still strong.
"I’ve had a lot of conversations about this vaccine. And you know something, I have faith in the system, much more than I had before," said Joan Jones.
Lenoir said skepticism and health care disparities are partly to blame.
He founded AAWP 20 years ago, a national nonprofit aimed at helping Blacks navigate the health care system.
He said COVID’s impact on Blacks has nothing to do with genetics and more to do with a disproportionately unhealthy population comprised of many essential workers who are routinely exposed to the virus.
As vaccines rolled out, he said he waited for something that never arrived.
"I was expecting, without question when this vaccination program rolled out, that the African-American community and maybe the Latino community would have special targeting to get them vaccinated regardless of age and that didn't happen," said Lenoir.
The AAWP is working to ease some vaccine hesitancy among Blacks through informed messaging on platforms such as podcasts, social media, and radio spots.
One way Solano County aims to get more people vaccinated is by bringing clinics into diverse areas.
"I think the location here in Vallejo, central in Solano county, is really just key to hitting all those diversities so that we are seeing lower numbers," said Benjamin Gammon, Solano County EMS coordinator.
When it comes to battling COVID, Lenoir said he’ll continue advocating for the underserved and leading by example.