Black leaders address vaccination efforts in Silicon Valley
California's first surgeon general Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris receives her COVID-19 vaccine at RingCentral Colosseum in Oakland March 11. Photo courtesy of the California Office of Emergency Services.

    James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” played as a nonprofit founded by local Black leaders opened its second Bay Area town hall to discuss a virus that continues to disproportionately devastate Black Americans.

    The panel included Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 as the state’s first surgeon general, Roots Community Center South Bay director Alma Burrell and Santa Clara County Public Health branch director Rhonda McClinton-Brown.

    The discussion comes as California announced that anyone age 50 and up can receive a vaccine starting Thursday. Then in two weeks, on April 15, anyone age 16 and older can get vaccinated. It represents the largest vaccine expansion in the state, but local leaders worry the vaccine still isn’t reaching Black residents and other minorities.

    “As we think about opening up eligibility the important question is – how do we maintain equity?” Burke-Harris said. “We have to talk to our communities in language and ways where we know we can see ourselves.”

    California’s Department of Public Health will send more doses to communities heavily impacted by COVID-19, she said – identifying them with an interactive map measuring socioeconomic conditions called the Healthy Places Index. It was developed by the Public Health Alliance of Southern California.

    San Jose has the lowest score in the South Bay, according to the index.

    Burke-Harris called on organizations like Silicon Valley Community Foundation and African American Community Services Agency to establish a network of trusted health care providers to alleviate concerns from residents about vaccinations.

    She said vaccination clinics should expand hours of availability during evenings and weekends, which is also equity requirement to receive more doses from the state.

    COVID-19 Black founder André Chapman said he launched the data-driven nonprofit in June to raise public awareness surrounding disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths in the Black community.

    “We’re opening back up – but at the same time the numbers of us passing away are increasing,” he said.

    Chapman said he launched COVID-19 Black and began holding virtual town halls to educate Black residents because of his mother’s attitude toward the virus.

    He said she flew to New Jersey at the height of the state’s shelter in place orders just as airports were shutting down.

    “She said, ‘Listen I’m prayed up, the blood of Jesus,’ nothing is going to stop her from going,” Chapman said. “There’s a generation of our community where faith guides our decisions – so I had to move very quickly.”

    He compared it to how some people erroneously thought HIV-AIDS was a “gay white man disease” — leading them to take fewer precautions in protecting themselves.

    McClinton-Brown said Santa Clara County ran mobile vaccine clinics at work sites, churches and more – places she said Black community members would feel most comfortable.

    She said organizations like Unity Care Group and the Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet Silicon Valley are helping in spreading accurate information about COVID-19.

    Roots Community Center South Bay has been administering vaccinations without appointments at Sunrise Middle School in San Jose every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to target Black residents.

    Burrell, who leads the center, said she found the age group with the least education on COVID-19 is young people.

    “I actually had two younger people ask me today how much the vaccine cost,” she said. “So they didn’t even know it was free – we’re really going to have to do more targeted campaigning toward that age group.”

    According to COVID-19 Black, Black Americans accounted for the most deaths per 100,000 people – the data was backed by The COVID Tracking Project.

    Black residents make up 2.4% of the population in Santa Clara County, but accounted for 2.9% of COVID-19 deaths.

    Meanwhile, about 28% of all Black residents in the county have been vaccinated, compared to 33% of white residents.

    With this data, members of COVID-19 Black advise health organizations on closing equity gaps and share information with local Black coalitions, such as the African American Community Services Agency and Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet Silicon Valley, to educate the community.

    “(COVID-19 Black) goes deep into the centuries of the racial inequalities and discrimination sewed into today’s health crises,” Chapman said. “It highlights what I call the ‘backpacks of trauma’ within each life domain.”

    Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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