African Americans abominably underrepresented in obtaining COVID-19 vaccine

Data obtained by Courier shows just 2,860 people identifying as Black have received full vaccine in Allegheny County

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

If you’re African American and living in Allegheny County, it might be easier for you to fly to the moon than it is for you to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The New Pittsburgh Courier has found that as of Feb. 26, just 2,860 county residents who identified as Black had received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech), according to data from the Pa. Department of Health’s website.

Meanwhile, there were 36,429 White residents in the county who were fully vaccinated.

These numbers don’t take into account data that hasn’t been reported to the state Health Department, the 4,109 fully-vaccinated county residents who identified their race as “multiple/other,” nor the 15,967 fully-vaccinated county residents whose race was classified as “unknown.”

COURIER EXCLUSIVE

But there’s no doubt that African Americans are underrepresented when it comes to getting access to the COVID-19 vaccine in Allegheny County.

Using just the identified Black and White county residents who’ve had both shots as of Feb. 26, totaling 39,289, Blacks who were vaccinated (2,860) equaled 7.8 percent. Allegheny County’s Black makeup is 13.4 percent.

While there were nearly 16,000 county residents who received both shots but whose race was classified as “unknown,” it’s unrealistic to believe that the majority of those residents were African American, given the overall trend of the data of which race is known.

And when it comes to Allegheny County residents who have been only partially vaccinated—with just the first shot only—the data doesn’t really get much better for African Americans. State Department of Health numbers showed that as of Feb. 26, 75,141 White residents were “partially covered”—as for African Americans, the number was 8,217.

This issue is real. Not only nationwide, not only statewide, but in our own backyard. African Americans in Allegheny County are living in a “COVID-19 vaccine desert.”

Entities in Allegheny County are trying to get the vaccine to the masses—large vaccination clinics have been held at PNC Park and Heinz Field, and the Allegheny County Health Department is in the process of vaccinating hundreds per day this week in Castle Shannon, in the South Hills.

But what about Pittsburgh’s Black communities? Where are the mass vaccination events in the Hill District? Homewood? North Side (not just PNC Park and Heinz Field)? East Liberty? The Hilltop? Sheraden?

Those in Homewood and Lincoln-Lemington may have heard about what was labeled a successful COVID vaccine pop-up event in Homewood on Feb. 5-6, in which about 1,000 people (majority-Black) over age 65 were strategically contacted and, within a few days, given the first of the two shots of the COVID vaccine.

Other than that event, though, there’s been no large-scale vaccination event in Pittsburgh’s Black community.

But, there’s more to the story.

Reverend Paul Abernathy, CEO of the Neighborhood Resilience Project, in Pittsburgh, said that in addition to certain technological barriers that some African Americans face in trying to sign up online for a vaccination appointment, there’s a general “mistrust of government, history of clinical abuse,” and “mistrust of Corporate America” that is affecting the willingness of some Blacks to get the vaccine.

He said on MSNBC’s “The Reidout” on Feb. 26 that he’s been going “door-to-door” to “disseminate information” honoring people’s “dignity to make choice, believing that with the right information, they can make the best choice. And it’s made a tremendous effect with that approach.”

Kamala Harris, who has become a historic figure as the nation’s first Black vice president, received her first COVID vaccine shot on Dec. 28, 2020, on national TV, to curb concerns in the Black community about the vaccine. Al Roker, the everlasting NBC “Today Show” meteorologist, got his first shot on live TV on Jan. 19. Samuel L. Jackson got his first dose of the vaccine on Jan. 24.

Still, an Associated Press poll released in February revealed that 43 percent of African American respondents said they would “probably or definitely reject” the vaccine.

Vice President Harris is continuing her crusade to get African Americans vaccinated, and to toss the concerns about the vaccine’s negative effects in the trash. She spent much of her Thursday afternoon, Feb. 25, in a D.C. grocery store located in a Black neighborhood, easing tensions about the vaccine to older African Americans who were getting their second dose.

“It will feel, when you get the shot, the same way the first one felt,” Harris said to one person, reported by the L.A. Times. “The next day, I realized I needed to take it a little slow.”

And in Philadelphia, a group of Black doctors created the “Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium,” bringing the vaccine right into the Black community. Founded by Dr. Ala Stanford, she said in media reports that so far, her group has vaccinated 10,000 people.

So, how can you get the coveted COVID-19 vaccine?

Currently, Pennsylvania is in phase “1A” of the vaccine rollout. While most people are aware that those in long-term care facilities and frontline health care workers were first to receive the vaccine in the county, those who are ages 65 and over are now included, along with those ages 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.

The Allegheny County Health Department said that it is focusing on those ages 65 and over only, until further notice.

The health department currently has two “points of dispensary,” in Monroeville’s Double Tree Hotel (next to Monroeville Mall), and the Castle Shannon Fire Department Banquet Hall (3600 Library Road).

You cannot get your first dose of the vaccine until you have successfully secured an appointment via the health department’s website (or via phone by dialing 211), a few days to a week prior to the actual vaccination date. Check the health department’s website for upcoming announcements on when the next mass vaccination clinic will be held:
http://www.alleghenycounty.us/healthdepartment

Grocery store chain Giant Eagle is offering vaccinations, although appointment times at its various locations are limited due to an extremely limited supply of the vaccine. Giant Eagle teamed with the Pittsburgh Steelers to dish out first-dose vaccinations to 4,000 people between March 2-5. It’s unclear if Giant Eagle will hold a similar massive first-dose vaccination clinic in the future.

Allegheny Health Network and Highmark Health teamed with the Pittsburgh Pirates to hold a massive first-dose vaccination clinic at PNC Park on Feb. 24-25. About 6,000 people received their first doses of the COVID vaccine, and will return in about three weeks for their second dose. It’s unclear when the next massive clinic will be held by Allegheny Health Network and Highmark Health. AHN advises people to call 412-362-8677 for more information, or visit its website: http://www.ahn.org/coronavirus

UPMC is advising people to visit its website, http://vaccine.upmc.com, or call 1-844-876-2822 to place your name on the waiting list for an appointment. It’s unclear if UPMC will be holding any massive vaccination clinics in the future.

The federal government announced that it would be shipping massive quantities of the COVID vaccine to major drug stores CVS and Walgreens. However, the Courier has learned that as of Feb. 26, there were only six CVS locations in the state that had the vaccine, and just one of them in Western Pennsylvania—the CVS in New Kensington. All six CVS locations in the state, including New Kensington, have no appointments available as of Feb. 26.

Also, as of Feb. 26, appointments were unavailable for Walgreens locations in the Pittsburgh region, according to its website. It’s unclear if appointments will become available at local Walgreens locations in the near future.

Another national drug store chain, Rite Aid, announced that it is also offering the vaccine. It requests that individuals visit the Rite Aid website to make an appointment.

The Biden administration announced that on Feb. 15, Federally Qualified Health Centers, more commonly known as Community Health Centers, would begin getting the vaccine directly into its offices. In the Pittsburgh area, Primary Care Health Services Inc., and East Liberty Family Health Care Center Inc., are the two major FQHC organizations, with medical offices in Homewood, Braddock, East Liberty, Hazelwood, McKeesport, the West End, Homestead, Wilkinsburg and Lincoln-Lemington.

The White House, in its announcement, said that at least one FQHC in each state per week would receive the vaccine. The Courier has learned that since the FQHC Vaccination Program was announced last month, there have been four Community Health Centers in the state that have been selected by the Health Resources & Services Administration; three are in Philadelphia, the other in Williamsport, Pa. No Community Health Centers in Pittsburgh have been selected…yet.

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