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For Black residents of rural Tri-State areas, mistrust adds to struggle to get vaccines

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Brown County Health Department
Posted at 6:29 AM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 20:44:51-04

GEORGETOWN, Ohio — Brown County resident Dorella Grant spent the better half of February searching online looking for an open appointment to get one of the three COVID-19 vaccines.

“I was going to all websites,” she said. “Here and to the Eastgate area, and the Anderson area to put my name on their list.”

During her search she visited a vaccination drive-thru held by the Brown County Health Department, but she was turned away because there weren’t any more doses. Two days later, county health officials called her and asked if she still needed the shot -- and just like that she was scheduled.

“I wanted to get it. I know it's not going to cure it, but it could lessen the severity if you should get it," Grant said. "It’s just like back in the day when you were coming up and you got the polio, the measles. This is just another type of vaccine to help."

To date, the Brown County Health Department has administered more than 6,000 vaccines to residents through various vaccination events. Margery Paeltz, the department’s emergency response coordinator, said getting information and vaccines to the residents of the rural community has been a grassroots effort -- an effort made more challenging by fear and mistrust of the health care system from some in the county's Black community.

According to the latest census data, about 1% of the population in Brown County is Black. But within that small number, there are mixed feelings about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We don’t have public transit; we don’t have a hospital in our county," Paeltz said. "We rely heavily on our doctors' offices that are here, and we rely on our partners who provide services for our seniors, for our people who have disabilities, for our people who may have a harder time getting services that they need during this time of not being able to get out as much."

Paeltz said her office relies heavily on word of mouth to get information to the county’s Black community.

“We know where people live and all of us here know people throughout the county because we’re from here and we’ve been here," Paeltz said. "Most of our employees have been here a while."

Jerald Alford is pastor of First Baptist Church in Ripley. He said his congregation, which largely includes elderly Black people, has shared differing thoughts about the vaccine.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say they are not taking it because of the Bill Gates situation, or some of them say they’re not gonna take it because of the ‘Miss Evers’ Boys’ project," Alford said. "They were told they’d be getting one thing, and all of a sudden, boom. My thing was I just don’t want to be five years from now and hear a commercial, ‘If you’ve taken this vaccine, please call the law office of boom boom boom.’”

Alford said he believes it's the country’s history of using Black Americans as guinea pigs that causes mistrust.

“I spent my whole military career in the Army. I know what we’ve done," he said. "I’ve worked for the government before and I just don’t trust them. I have my doubts.”

Despite his doubts, he’s not pushing his beliefs on anyone in his congregation. He said the choice is up to each person.

“I tell them, don’t because I’m not taking it, don’t you take it," Alford said. "Let that not be the reason you take it. My faith is what keeps me going, and just as it did with the children of Israel, I’m fine with it. I know my body.”

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Senior Reporter Larry Seward is focusing his reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine to bring you answers and information. Contact Larry at 513-667-4804 or larry.seward@wcpo.com.