LA County data shows Black residents with the lowest vaccination rate of all racial groups

New data from the LA County Department of Public Health shows Black residents are not getting vaccinated at the same rates as other races in the county, and have the lowest vaccination rates.  

"Black residents have the lowest vaccination rate of all racial and ethnic groups at 7.2% and this is less than half the rate of white residents and a third the rate of Pacific Islanders," said county health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

The data makes inequity concerns more evident in LA County. It also shows only 9% of Native Americans and 14% of Latino residents receiving at least one dose of the vaccination. In comparison, 17% of white residents, 18% of Asian Americans and 29% of Pacific Islanders have received at least one shot.

"This data shows us that we need to make it much easier for Native American, Black and Latinx residents and workers to be vaccinated in their communities by providers they trust. This is a top priority for the Department of Public Health. We're gonna continue to work with our community partners to ensure that we're not only getting everyone vaccinated quickly, but we're addressing the need to provide easier access to neighborhood sites and better access to accurate information about the vaccines," said Dr. Ferrer.

Dr. Joy Ekwueme from Novaxis Healthcare Community Clinic also spoke with FOX 11 about the low vaccination rates. She believes access is an issue.

"I think that in the current situation where we are, you have a pressure cooker and like they say, whenever there's pressure applied, you see what's really on the inside so it's really exposing the disparities that we know how existed for a very, very long time in our healthcare system," she said.

Dr. Ekwueme addressed technological issues within the community.

"It's interesting because we knew those technological issues existed in education when our education system was forced to transition to online. It wasn't just a matter of limitations in terms of hardware with the physical computer or laptop devices, but even in terms of Wifi access and we have a situation that we knew existed but may have not really been factored in the rollout of the vaccines," said Dr. Ekwueme.

Dr. Ekwueme said she has seen a "cascade of compounding complaints" from people trying to register for a vaccination appointment.

"You hear a general sense of frustration with having difficulty registering and just a feeling of helplessness a lot of times for a lot of patients because they are struggling to log in and when they finally log in, there are no appointments available and then when they try to call the number for additional help, they are not able to reach anybody. In terms of COVID, I think one of the ways in which we can encourage people to get the vaccine is to make it easier for them to access it," she said.

Jody Armour, a USC law professor, also spoke about vaccination fears from the Black community based on history.

"When you have a sense of the Tuskegee experiments and other historical discrimination that Blacks have suffered in the healthcare system, they've been used as guinea pigs. There's a reluctance to be again exposed to that possible guinea pig treatment," said Armour.

Armour said it is a cost of systemic racism.  

"One of the hidden costs of discrimination is that it can rob a community that's been discriminated against of trust and confidence in the system, in the health care system that can provide life-saving healthcare to them," he said.

Armour said the skepticism is not "irrational," but believes it's important for Black people to take heed to vaccination efforts and get the shot.

"The community most in need of vaccinations right now, one of those is the Black community, because of all the high comorbidities like asthma, hypertension, other comorbidity factors make Black people especially susceptible to lethal experiences with the COVID virus. It's not irrational skepticism, but it is potentially lethal skepticism with a virus like this," he said.

Kendrick Brown, who works in a dermatology office, was able to get his first dose of the vaccination but was hesitant due to skepticism from the community and his family.

"It goes with trust. We don't trust too well, and if we don't trust, we're not going to do it, meaning Black people. I work in the medical field and I'm doing my research on my own. I can't convince everybody to do it. I can't convince my family to do it. Some will, some won't but I can do my research," said Brown.

Brown said he spoke with his doctor colleagues at work, and they helped him understand the importance of the vaccination.

"Every last doctor, I kid you not, said basically this, 'if you don't get it, you're a dummy, if you don't get the vaccine, you're a dummy,'" he said.

Brown said he does have concerns about his second dose because of reported side effects but is scheduled to take it next week.  

"I'm not going to lie to you. I'm scared to take my second dose because of how I've seen people have symptoms and had to call off work. For what it's worth, I think taking the shot outweighs the risk," he said.

Dr. Ekwueme believes there need to be more grassroots efforts to help curb skepticism within communities of color.

"I've been a huge advocate for utilizing more of the grassroot community structure. We've seen those grassroots efforts be successful in different industries, in politics or whatever. I believe in terms of healthcare, this would be a really important time to capitalize on the setting that we know in Black America we trust, which is our small type of community structures, our churches, our small family practice settings as opposed to sending grandma and grandpa to a huge site where they have to stand in line and they're nervous," she said.

The eligible groups for vaccinations in LA County are healthcare workers, people who work in long term care facilities and seniors 65 and older. More than one million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered so far in the county.  

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