CINCINNATI — Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine discussed the way his administration is addressing the racial disparity in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine at his news conference on Tuesday.
The Ohio Department of Health’s latest numbers show that, of the more than 880,000 Ohioans vaccinated, just 42,000 are Black.
The Center for Closing the Health Gap works with more than 60 local organizations to spread the word about COVID-19. They’ve been at it since the onset of the pandemic. Now, that network is trying to make sure those who want the vaccine have access.
“It’s going to take time, but we don’t have a lot of time,” said Center for Closing the Health Gap president and CEO Renee Mahaffey Harris.
She said faith in the science and the system remain issues in the overall number of people who are choosing to get vaccinated.
“Mistrust is not fixed by simply saying, ‘We have a strategy,’” Mahaffey Harris said. “Mistrust means that the people who you get your information from for anything or your trust in most (are) people that are closest to you.”
The Center for Closing the Health Gap released a report that Hamilton County was able to support with CARES Act funding designed to mitigate risk to minorities.
“While there are a number of people who are definitely supportive and considering and planning to take the vaccine, of the Black and brown people in Hamilton County, the Black community is more likely to be hesitant to take the vaccine,” Mahaffey Harris said. “Where the data showed that the Hispanic community didn’t have such a hesitancy. Their hesitancy was more steeped in concern around immigration.”
The Health Collaborative, which partners with local vaccine providers, is working to change things, too.
“Equity is so important,” said special adviser on vaccine coordination Kate Schroder. “Our goal here is to save lives.”
She said the team is connected to clergy, educators and activists – the voices that could carry the most weight for some in this vaccine rollout.
“The partnerships are critical because of the trust – because we listen to people that we trust,” Schroder said. “We listen to people that we know.”
For those willing to get vaccinated, Mahaffey Harris said, the next critical point is access, because if that’s not attainable for people because of internet access or transportation, the effort will be futile.
“You start questioning, ‘Is the system really set up to work for me?'” she said.
Work continues to make sure that answer is yes. The state’s equity strategy includes more vaccine sites, including those in affordable housing, transportation and media geared toward the Black community.
“We have a ways to go, but I know that we are moving in the right direction,” Mahaffey Harris said.
The Ohio Department of Aging’s regional rapid-response program will host on-site clinics supported by the National Guard starting the week of Feb. 8.