More African Americans getting vaccinated, but pace needs to pick up, experts say

Blacks in Allegheny County are 20 percentage points behind Whites in getting the vaccine

 

Chardae Jones, the mayor of Braddock for the past two and a half years, always sees the glass half full.

But even she was taken aback when she learned that a group of African American teens who were part of a summer camp in Braddock wanted no part of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“They don’t want it. They don’t want it,” a frustrated Jones told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview, Aug. 29. “They don’t know what’s in it, they don’t understand it,” were some of the reasons students gave the coordinator of the summer camp, which were then relayed to Jones. “Now I’m at a point where I’m like, maybe I have to figure out a way to come to them, and find another approach. Instead of talking at them, maybe just sit and talk with them.”

The eye has been on the Braddock area lately since the Allegheny County Health Department unveiled vaccine statistics by zip code, and the 15104 zip code, where Braddock is located, had the lowest percentage of residents with at least one dose of the vaccine, at 42 percent. Jones, though, pointed out that North Braddock and Rankin also are part of the 15104 zip code, so the low vaccination rate is not just a Braddock problem.

 

AFRICAN AMERICAN MEN were getting vaccinated against COVID-19 during the Homewood Community Health and Wellness Summit, Aug. 14. Now the push is on to get even more African American men and women in the Pittsburgh area vaccinated, especially those in the younger age groups. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

                                     42% of African Americans in Allegheny County are                                       at least partially vaccinated; for Whites, it’s 62%

But overall, African Americans in Allegheny County continue to severely lag behind Whites when it comes to getting the COVID vaccine. Data from the county revealed that as of Aug. 14, just 39 percent of African American males 10 years of age and older were at least partially vaccinated, compared to 58 percent of White males. For Black women in Allegheny County, they fare better with 43 percent of its population at least partially vaccinated, but a far cry from the 64 percent of White females at least partially vaccinated.

After Braddock, the zip codes with the next lowest vaccination rates are: 15110 (Duquesne area); 15233 (Manchester area); 15219 (Downtown, Hill District area); and 15132 (McKeesport area). All the areas have a significant number of African American residents.

Jones is part of that younger demographic that hasn’t been getting vaccinated as much as older populations. But at age 32, Jones said she’s been fully vaccinated since April. She wants other younger people to buck the trend.

“I’m an optimist, and if that means I gotta go door-to-door and talk to people and ask them why they don’t want to get vaccinated, I will because it’s important. There’s already a health disparity out here, and now we’re just going to create a bigger gap. I understand why people are hesitant because of medical malpractices in the Black community, but right now is not the time to act on that.”

At one point, access to the COVID vaccine was a problem in Pittsburgh’s Black communities. But no more. Vaccine clinics have been popping up everywhere like summer thunderstorms, from Braddock to McKeesport, Homewood to the Hill, the North Side to the Rox (McKees Rocks). Central Baptist Church in the Hill District, for example, still offers the vaccine on a daily basis, and Giant Eagle pharmacies are dishing out the vaccine via appointment.

“My best friend was against vaccines, and I took her to get vaccinated,” Jones told the Courier. “There was a lot of back and forth and a lot of debate about it, but she finally did it.”

On the other hand, she knows someone “who’s never been vaccinated for anything in his life…and he got the COVID vaccine.”

It’s almost like a coin flip. Some young people want it; others don’t. As for the older Black population, Jones said in Braddock, many of the senior citizens there have been vaccinated because the facilities had vaccinated its own residents.

Now, she said, if the younger end of the Black community can learn a little something from grandma and grandpa, the Black community in Pittsburgh would be that much closer to defeating COVID—hopefully for good.

“Life expectancy in Pittsburgh for Black people is seemingly lower than our counterparts already,” Jones told the Courier. “We don’t need to create our own hurdles.”

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