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Vaccination of Black people lagging behind whites in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — New statistics indicate a disproportionately small number of Black people are getting vaccinations against the new coronavirus in Alabama, a trend the state’s top health official said Friday shows the need to increase immunization efforts in the minority community.

While demographic data compiled by the state has big gaps, with the race of tens of thousands of vaccine recipients not reported, Dr. Scott Harris said the numbers that are available show about 55% of vaccines have gone to white people so far compared to about 11% for Blacks. By comparison, Alabama’s population is about 27% Black, Census figures show.

Nationally, this problem is even more grave, with early numbers showing Black people in Alabama are being vaccinated at about twice the national average, said Harris, who leads the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Factors including hesitancy to accept the vaccine and the demographic makeup of groups that were allowed to receive vaccines during the earliest rounds could help account for the difference, said Harris.

“This speaks a lot to our equity concerns. We know that African Americans are more likely to have serious illness or death from COVID-19 in Alabama. We have to make very sure we reach that community,” he said.

Increasing immunizations among Black people “is a real priority for us,” he said.

Aside from making sure that shots are available in areas where the African American population is concentrated, the state is working with organizations and leaders including pastors while planning a campaign to reduce the hesitancy of some Black people to get vaccinated, Harris said.

Some of the gap could have been closed this week as more than 70,000 doses were given in mass vaccination clinics staged in cities including Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham, which have large Black populations. But these drive-though sites, which require a lot of workers to put on, can’t continue, mainly because the state lacks enough doses, Harris said.

About 455,000 people statewide have received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which both require two shots for maximum effectiveness, and about 125,000 have gotten both shots, statistics show. Meanwhile, more than 9,100 people have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and more than 478,000 have tested positive.

With the climax of the Mardi Gras season coming up next week on Fat Tuesday, Harris said he’s worried that celebrations could lead to further spread of the virus. While parades and balls were canceled in Mobile because of the pandemic, officials didn’t take the extra step of closing restaurants and bars, as was done in New Orleans.

Tightly packed crowds are the biggest concern, Harris said, and disease can spread whether or not there are parades. Mobile is shutting down streets in a large part of its downtown to allow people room to spread out on Fat Tuesday.

“We just hope people will do the right thing,” he said. “We are so close to being done with this.”

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