Getting COVID-19 vaccines to communities of color will be key to ending pandemic

As COVID-19 vaccines begin to reach the public in the coming weeks, there will be many challenges. One of them will be convincing those who may be hesitant to get the vaccines, especially local communities of color, that they're safe.

Survey after survey have suggested a deep reticence to take COVID-19 vaccines. Polls show distrust is particularly high among Black and Latino communities, where many are being infected and are dying at disproportionately high rates.

Dr. David Carlisle, president of Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, spearheads policies for eliminating health disparities.

"This hesitation, this uncertainty is understandable given our legacy. It's not just Tuskegee, it's not just (about) Henrietta Lacks," he said. "There is a tradition here and it makes the African American community leery."

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"When you look at making a change and you look at deflecting the trajectory of the pandemic, these are certainly communities that one would like to focus on from a public health perspective," Carlisle said.

Los Angeles County public health officials on Wednesday revealed a huge spike in the seven-day cumulative number of cases among Latinos. In Riverside County, where 50% of the population is Latino and 10% African American, outreach programs to encourage flu and COVID-19 vaccinations are underway.

Riverside University Health System Director of Pharmacy, Davalyn Tidwell, PharmD., is heading up vaccine distribution.

"We actually need to work with those community leaders to bring vaccine strategy to the community, to those partners. Simply being at the hospital alone will not be enough," Tidwell said.

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In South Los Angeles, Charles Drew University is prepared to be a vaccine distribution point.

"We have the technological capability to do this. We have super low-temperature freezers for example," Carlisle said.

Experts agree more needs to be done to actively engage those in minority populations - but we need to hurry.

"I would say this is an opportunity for us to reverse this legacy and focus on these communities primarily," he added.
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