RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Only three counties in North Carolina have administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to Black people at a rate that matches or exceeds their proportion of the population, a CBS17.com data analysis found.
With school personnel joining the pool of those eligible for inoculation this week, a focus of state leaders and medical experts has been on vaccine equity, the process of ensuring that the percentages of dosage distribution at least more closely resembles the population breakdown.
“As we start to vaccinate more people, if we’re not being intentional about reaching Black, indigenous and people of color communities, then we’re going to start to see those downward trends,” said Dr. Crystal Cené, an associate professor in the division of general medicine and clinical epidemiology at the University of North Carolina’s school of medicine.
Demographic data by race was listed for only 52 of the state’s 100 counties on the state Department of Health and Human Services dashboard.
Of those, Sampson, Hoke and Granville counties were the only ones where the percentage of first doses going to Black people was higher than the percentage of Black people who live there.
Hoke County, which is 33 percent black, had given 36 percent of first doses to Black people. They make up 30 percent of the population in Granville County and received 30 percent of first doses, and they are a quarter of the population in Sampson County while receiving 26 percent of those first doses.
The disparity even exists in the state’s seven counties where Black people make up the majority. In Bertie County — where 61 percent of its residents are Black, the highest percentage in the state — just under half of first doses have gone to Blacks.
Across the state, Black people make up 22 percent of the population of nearly 10.5 million but have received 15 percent of the first doses. That number has improved in recent weeks — it was at 8 percent in late December, early in the vaccination process — but still has plenty of room for improvement to reach proportionality.
“We’re working to make sure that race and ethnicity vaccination rates reflect our population, and that we are reaching underserved communities,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
State leaders have emphasized the need for vaccine equity, setting aside doses or blocks of time for vaccinating historically marginalized communities.
“I think the reality is that we know, and COVID has certainly illuminated, something that many in our communities have known for a very long time, which is that there are disparities,” said Katie Galbraith, the interim head for community health and president of Duke Regional Hospital.
“And it’s highlighted those disparities, and it’s really important that we focus on and that we really pay attention to this, but I do think there is some context.”
The vaccine isn’t available to everyone yet. Teachers and other school personnel this week joined health care workers and people older than 65 among those eligible in the state’s program, while those in nursing homes are part of a separate plan administered by the federal government through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens.
But that’s precisely the point: Black people tend to be underrepresented in all of those groups.
“There’s more we can be doing there to make sure that our health care teams also reflect the diversity of our communities we serve,” Galbraith said.
About 17 percent of those 65 or older are Black, according to population estimates.
“The concern is that … teachers of color, particularly Black or Hispanic or (Latino), they’re going to be underrepresented,” Cené said. “Most racial groups are going to be underrepresented among teachers.
“The problem is, when you think about the denominator, when you think about these races, you look at all of the people who got vaccinated,” she added. “If you have a lot more people who are not in the highest risk groups — for example, racial groups, Blacks or Hispanic, (Latino), as that denominator gets larger, more people are getting vaccinated and fewer of them are in those high-risk racial groups, then you see that proportion going down.”
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March, compiling data from federal, state and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.