Cuyahoga County plans to address racial inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic by allocating 20 percent of vaccines to people of color and bringing the vaccine to areas with higher numbers of people of color.
It’s an effort to balance inequitable vaccine distribution.
“According to the Board of Health, we’re seeing that 90 percent of the available vaccine are going to white people,” Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said.
Budish said during a press conference on Friday that he would ask for state and federal assistance to increase vaccines in minority communities.
In Ohio, Black people have received about 5 percent of the vaccine, compared to about 69% of the vaccine being received by white people.
About 13 percent are of unknown race, according to statewide data. And Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan said data on race is missing on 10 percent of the county’s data.
“We need to improve that, in the same way we work with our providers,” Allan said. “What’s more, ethnicity data is missing on 25 percent of those vaccinated, so we are asking all our providers to increase efforts to fill gaps.”
Allan said the county needs complete data for accurate reporting and to make sure vaccine distribution is equitable.
Distrust of the vaccine is one reason some people turn it down, so Budish said trusted leaders are important to spread correct information.
He said access to the vaccine is another big issue, so he called for statewide and national efforts to target minority areas for receiving the vaccine.
Allan said the county will have a plan in a few weeks for how to bring vaccines to these communities.
“We find that if you’re going to be working with a community specifically, that you’re engaging the trusted leaders in the community to make sure you determine the best way for outreach,” he said.
He said barriers include lack of transportation, technology and Internet access. Working with community leaders, he said, can help them reach people.
Right now, Allan said the county is giving the first and second doses of the vaccine to the first priority group, 1A, which includes people in congregate living facilities and frontline health care workers. The county has also moved on to 1B, the second priority group for the vaccine, which includes older adults and school staff.
“We would see our work around equity and vaccination to focus on the 1B population,” he said.
Allan said the health department would work to assure that only people in the community visit the vaccine sites targeted for their area.
“We have the ability through our links that we send out to people that are eligible for vaccination to actually set up a number of separate links,” he said. “We’ve done that, for instance, for the developmentally disabled populations.”
Budish said the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Black-owned businesses, as well.
He said nationally, 41% of Black-owned businesses closed, while 17% of white-owned businesses were closed, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“Locally, we worked to do better,” he said. “Almost 60 percent of our small business stabilization grants, for example, went to minority-owned businesses.”
Budish said the Department of Development made sure these grants went to a high percentage of minority-owned businesses.
Budish said since the county has identified racism as a public health issue, it is working to close the equity gap. He announced legislation that would create a county Office of Diversity, which would make sure contracts with the county were distributed fairly.
County employees will also go through racial equity and inclusion training to address conscious and implicit bias.