COVID-19: North Carolina facing challenges vaccinating people of color

Despite the Secretary of Health, Dr. Mandy Cohen and Governor Roy Cooper's plea for people of color to take the COVID-19 vaccine, communities of color have different opinions on getting the shot.

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"I am unwilling to sacrifice myself as a guinea pig for the better good of the government," said Jackie Wagstaff.

The 62-year-old is recovering from cancer. Her doctors is encouraging her to get vaccinated once it's her turn.

The historic medical mistrust within Wagstaff's community and her distrust of the previous White House administration are factoring into her decision not to take the drug.

"I am just going to be blatantly honest. I don't need white folks telling me what's good for me," Wagstaff said. "I'm going to continue to wear the mask and socially distance and I get regular COVID testing."

But 71-year-old Thelma Glenn White from Durham, and 66 year-old William Smith are ready. And they hope they can convince their community to do the same.

"I want to take it. I think the benefits of having a vaccine always outweigh the consequences of getting COVID," said Smith.

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"My husband is scheduled to take his shot on Monday. And I'm trying to get mine," said White. "We need to get this shot because I want to live."

Frontline health workers, people living and working in long-term care facilities, and those 65 and older can get vaccinated.

Right now there's a disparity in who is getting the shot.

According the State Department of Health, 82 percent of people vaccinated so far have been white. Eleven percent of those vaccinated are Black and just two percent are Latino.

Studies suggest the inequity is because Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in some sectors of healthcare.

Diana Powell is a community advocate in Southeast Raleigh. She says the issue is also about access.

"It's one thing to be in the parks or at the recreation centers but I think it's got to go a little bit deeper than that. I think you got to go exactly where they are," said White.

Joanne Pierce, the General Manager for Health and Well-being for Durham County, released this sharp rebuke on how the state is managing the vaccine roll out.

"Black Indigenous People of Color communities desire the vaccines so we must examine why they are not receiving them. Then we must ask why again and again bringing us to the root cause of this disparity. Race neutral solutions to address the racial divide COVID highlights are unacceptable and must be addressed immediately. Problems that show up by race are never solved by race-blind responses."

The state health department is facing ongoing challenges on how to effectively help people of color disproportionately impacted by this national crisis.

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