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Vaccination rates in the Black community lagging behind expectations

Updated: Mar. 29, 2021 at 9:07 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - More than 1.1 million South Carolinians have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control shows less than 18 percent of those vaccines have ended up in the arms of people identifying as Black.

The U.S. Census Bureau shows the Black community comprises about 27 percent of the total state population.

ADoH Scientific is a Charleston-based mental and behavioral health analytic assessment company. They conducted a nationwide survey that looked at how communities were responding emotionally to the coronavirus pandemic, which included a question about vaccine hesitancy.

CEO Al Fasola said they found unusually high rates of hesitancy in the Black community.

“What we saw were striking numbers,” Fasola said. “More than half of the African American population was unlikely to take the vaccine.”

Fasola says the number of people unlikely to get the vaccine jumped to nearly 60 percent in South Carolina. He said there are both access and trust barriers that make vaccination in minority communities more challenging.

“The fundamental doctor-patient relationship is very poor in these underserved communities,” Fasola said. “You don’t have the connection on that basic, fundamental level and then you don’t have access and availability to healthcare. In many of these rural counties which represent 60 percent of the state’s African American population . . . accessibility to rural healthcare is very poor.”

ADoH Scientific has partnered with Closing the Gap in Healthcare, a Charleston organization attempting to bridge the racial inequities in healthcare.

Getting the vaccine to communities in every corner of the state is the key, and that’s where the Bishop Samuel Green, Sr. and the African Methodist Episcopal District 7 Church come in. Green says the history of mistrust in the community runs deep, but can be accounted for by working with already established, trusted authorities.

“Who do you trust?” Green said. “The most trusted agency, organization, or body in the African American community is the Black church.”

There are more than 500 AME churches around the state with locations in every county. Green says those churches are standing by and ready to host vaccination clinics.

“An ideal vaccination clinic or site to me is to be in the heart of the African American community in a church facility,” Green said. “And it is publicized not just with members of the church, but it is publicized with the whole community surrounding the church.”

By partnering with Walgreens, Green and the AME churches have been able to hold two vaccination clinics in the last two weeks. One of those clinics was held in Mount Pleasant.

Together, those clinics helped inoculate around 1,300 people. While the partnership with Walgreens has been successful, Green wants to see a more targeted commitment from DHEC.

“I strongly believe DHEC could be doing a whole better than what they’ve been doing, and the effort to get to the African American Community through the Black church needs to be a more valiant, more concerted effort,” Green said.

He says their goal is to provide as many vaccines to people in minority and rural communities as possible.

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