COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely than White, non-Hispanic Americans to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and 2.8 times more likely to die from complications of the disease, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet, statistics kept by public health officials show Black people are getting vaccinated at disproportionately low rates.
According to the U.S. Census, 13% of Ohio’s population is Black or African American, but data kept by the Ohio Department of Health shows that group makes up less than five percent of Ohioans who have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Leon McDougle, a professor of family medicine who serves as the Chief Diversity Officer at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said longstanding socioeconomic disparities that have long disadvantaged Black communities were made even more apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think what is happening (with vaccination) is a replication of what we saw with diagnostic testing,” McDougle said. “You would see these long lines of SUVs, getting ready to get the diagnostic testing. And what if you don’t have an SUV?”
“It’s very concerning,” said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, the Columbus Public Health Commissioner. “In Columbus and Franklin County, our Black and brown individuals have definitely been disproportionately impacted not only by COVID-19, but by hospitalizations.”
According to ODH data, 18.4% of people hospitalized in Ohio with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic are Black.
It’s not just a lack of access that’s keeping many Black Ohioans from getting vaccinated, Roberts said.
“There is a huge distrust or mistrust with the healthcare community, with government,” Roberts said. “And that is valid. I mean, it comes from years of treatment that has not been favorable for Black and brown individuals.”
To combat the mistrust, health officials are recruiting members in minority communities to help with a massive public information effort to tout the safety of vaccination and dispel rumors.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with a variety of members from the community– from the faith community, to the immigrant community, to hairdressers, and barber shops,” Roberts said. “What we’re hearing is, you know, people don’t understand — they don’t understand how this vaccine got to the market so quickly. And given that it got there so quickly, is it really safe?”
Roberts said recruiting more minority doctors will also be crucial in the effort to lessen health care disparities.
“When you do seek care, you can have a provider that looks like you, and that understand some of the issues that you’re dealing with as a Black and brown person in America,” Roberts said.
McDougle’s job includes building a diverse faculty at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, which he said has 107 Black faculty members, accounting for roughly 4.2% of the total.
“Probably about eight years or so ago, we had 56,” McDougle said, adding that the medical school’s efforts to diversify staff are still in progress. “So, we are making inroads, and continue to see diversity as driving excellence, and allowing us to advance health equity in the greater Columbus area.”
Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, Chief Medical Officer at the Ohio Department of Health, said the agency is working to distribute vaccine information in multiple languages, and eventually bring COVID-19 vaccines to underserved communities with residents who are less likely to have access to a provider.