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Miami-Dade NAACP Decries Racial Disparity in Vaccine Rollout

Florida's COVID-19 vaccine rollout is off to a rocky start.
Florida's COVID-19 vaccine rollout is off to a rocky start.
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Despite the fact that Black and lower-income communities have been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus, data shows that in Miami-Dade County, people in those very areas are receiving fewer COVID-19 vaccinations than residents of whiter, wealthier neighborhoods.

As the county continues its vaccine rollout to people aged 65 and older, state vaccination numbers have highlighted a major disparity: Communities with higher average incomes have been getting more doses than more impoverished neighborhoods, as detailed in a recent Miami Herald report.

On Miami's luxe Fisher Island, half of the residents have been vaccinated already, while affluent zip codes in Aventura and Deering Bay show vaccination rates of 13 percent and 14 percent, respectively. By comparison, in Opa-locka, which has a poverty rate rate of 41 percent and a majority Black population, only 2 percent of residents have been vaccinated.

Daniella Pierre, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP branch, says vaccination efforts by the county have not been equitable, and she wants to help Miami-Dade do a better job of vaccinating the people who most need it.

"While we understand that there is a limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccinations, the supply that is on hand is not being equitably dispersed," Pierre says. "That is systemic — it's nothing new. Those wealthier communities tend to rise to the top, but where the need truly is, the response is fractured."

Pierre says that so far the county has been informing seniors of available vaccines via Twitter and social media, which isn't always helpful for seniors who may not have access to the internet.

Over the weekend, the NAACP released a four-step plan it wants the county to follow in order to achieve equitable distribution of vaccines to Black communities. The plan also addresses how Miami-Dade can reach people in marginalized communities who have developed a distrust of vaccines and government.

First, the organization asks the county to engage the Black community about the vaccine and to be transparent about its possible side effects and risks. Pierre says many Black residents are well aware of the infamous, decades-long Tuskegee experiment, in which public-health officials conscripted Black men with syphilis into a clinical trial and falsely claimed they were treating them but instead allowed their diseases to progress without actually medicating them.

"Many people lived through it. Many people have heard about it, read about it, and are still pained by it. That happened at the hands of a government that we're supposed to trust," Pierre says. "The county needs to dispel myths and allow people to make informed decisions."

The NAACP plan calls for scientifically based, educational outreach via avenues besides the typically used churches and supermarkets, which could include hair salons, laundromats, or public transit stations.

The NAACP also wants to see the county bring vaccines to urban-core areas like Liberty City, Overtown, and South Dade.

Finally, the organization recommends following up with Black residents after they are vaccinated, to educate them about next steps and tell them where to report any side effects.

Last week, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava signed an emergency order requiring all local hospital systems to report daily vaccine supply, immunizations performed, and demographic data. Cava tells New Times the order was meant to address issues of inequity by showing where those vaccines are most needed and better addressing those areas.

"That's why I signed an Emergency Order giving the County greater oversight of vaccination in Miami-Dade – requiring hospitals and all entities to publish daily updates on their progress to ensure no communities are left behind," Cava writes in an email.

Cava also says the county is working to implement a call-in option to make vaccination appointments over the phone rather than solely online. Miami-Dade officials are also reaching out to senior citizens in county-managed public housing units.

Cava's office tells New Times that the Office of Emergency Management will begin connecting with county agencies such as the Office of Community Advocacy this week to improve outreach to elderly residents.

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