County commissioner pushes for equal access to COVID-19 vaccine in underserved communities

County commissioner pushes for equal access to COVID-19 vaccine in underserved communities

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Thousands of people in Mecklenburg County are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine but some say they may not all have an equal opportunity.

County health leaders are working to close the gap but county commissioner Mark Jerrell say it’s not happening fast enough.

Jerrell is concerned that communities of color, people with underlying health conditions and other underserved communities are not being vaccinated quickly enough.

He says that was the case when it came to testing and then the county had to play catch up.

This time he wants the county to prioritize those groups before it’s too late.

“We can’t sit back and wait for people to come to us,” Jerrell said. “We have got to get out, start knocking on doors, shaking streets, shaking bushes to get the vaccination into arms of the people we know need them.”

He’s concerned that underserved communities, who are already at a disadvantage, are now being disadvantaged again when it comes to vaccine supply. It is common for these communities to not have stable access to the internet or TV for information. They often don’t have reliable transportation and may not speak English as a first language. He says there’s a history of those communities not having equal access to things like health care.

“It seems like it’s the same story over and over again,” he said. “We’ve seen this movie before. At what point do we learn and make adjustments and implement best practices to where we’ve been previously.”

Vaccination data based on demographics for the county isn’t updated regularly online but on the North Carolina DHHS website, it says 82% of first dose vaccines in the state were given to white people.

“The sad thing is that it’s not surprising and it really validates the concerns myself and others are having,” Jerrell said.

The county says equal access to vaccines are a priority for them too. The public health department is working on plans right now but say low vaccine supply makes it difficult.

“We are continuing to plan and work with community partners to make sure we have the ability to bring the vaccine into those areas, as we have the vaccine available to us,” said Mecklenburg County public health director, Gibbie Harris. “We’re also looking at partnerships at number of entities in our community who can help us get the vaccine out. We want to be prepared once the vaccine starts being more available.”

The county spent the weekend vaccinating shelters and the jail, among other places. 800 doses of the vaccination were given out and that work continues this week. Atrium started moving vaccination clinics into the community, at churches and other locations as part of this effort as well.

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