Who deserves the credit for NC’s progress in vaccinating minorities?

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says North Carolina’s efforts to vaccinate minorities is working, with its mention in a weekly report eliciting a celebratory statement from Gov. Roy Cooper.

But that raises some questions: Just who should get the credit for those improved results? And is it appropriate to tout those results when the state’s vaccination rate for all adults still ranks just 34th nationally?

Duke Regional Hospital President Katie Galbraith says it is.

“I always think that it’s important to balance but it is important to celebrate where we’ve had successes,” she said. “And I think that there has been some success here.”

Indeed, the numbers in the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report do add up.

The section highlighting North Carolina’s vaccine equity push looks at two time periods — Dec. 14, 2020 to Jan. 3, and March 29-April 6 — and accurately points out that the proportion of vaccines going to Blacks in the state rose from 9 percent to 19 percent in those time frames, closing the gap for a group that makes up 22 percent of the state’s population.

That figure went from 4 percent to 10 percent for Latinos — exceeding their 9 percent share of the state’s population.

Kody Kinsley, the chief deputy secretary for health for the state Department of Health and Human Services, says his agency proposed the state’s vaccine equity results to the CDC for submission.

“And then we went through the process of putting all the content together,” said Kinsley, who is credited as one of the 10 authors of that section. “It was a bit of a process but an important one to highlight the work, for sure.”

Kinsley, asked who deserves the credit for that success, called it “a huge team effort on things like this.

“The credit is due to community-based organizations on the ground that are knocking on doors and encouraging folks to get vaccinated,” he said. “The credit is due to our providers who have been incredibly intentional about making sure that the shots that they put into arms match the populations that they serve in their community. And the credit is due to a decision that we made to make sure that we were going to have the data that we were going to have the race and ethnicity and other demographic data for everyone that was getting vaccinated here in North Carolina so we can know where we needed to do better.”

Galbraith says the state does deserve a pat on the back for its emphasis on equity.

“Secretary (Mandy) Cohen has certainly been a champion for vaccine equity, as have all of the hospitals and health systems and health departments across the state,” she said.

And Randi Towns, the director of health equity at UNC Health, says the credit “truly goes to our community leaders and those people on the front lines, on the ground, who really were intentional and ensuring that those in their neighborhoods, ones who knew about the vaccine and they knew what was true.

“They knew the science, they knew and they were able to dispel all the myths,” she added.

The calculus of vaccine equity has changed during the past half a year. Early in the vaccination push, when demand was high, doses and appointment slots were reserved for marginalized communities.

That’s not a problem now — providers have plenty of doses for everyone who wants one — so now the approach has shifted to education at the individual level.

“The good news is now our equity strategy looks like engaging with a whole lot of folks to match people to a whole lot of places, as opposed to pulling people together to be single points of entry,” Kinsley said.

And while the numbers for minorities have improved drastically, it’s the majority that appears to be lagging behind.

White people — who make up 72 percent of the state’s population — account for just 65 percent of first-dose vaccinations. That gap of seven percentage points is the state’s largest of any racial or ethnic group.

“I think it’s not necessarily frustration, but we’re not doing enough,” Towns said. “What do we need to be doing more of, because we’re still not where we want to be?”

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