SC health officials eager to get COVID vaccine to more minorities, overcome hesitation

Lyn Riddle
·2-min read

South Carolina health care leaders are eager to get the coronavirus vaccine to more minority residents, though many in African American communities have expressed hesitation about the vaccine, hospital officials said Wednesday.

Vince Ford, Prisma Health vice president, said a series of meetings were held with Black leaders in the Upstate and Midlands to hear their concerns about the coronavirus vaccine.

Ford said during a press conference Wednesday that officials have heard from pastors, elected officials and members of fraternities and sororities in the African American community that some don’t want the vaccine based on long-held mistrust of the medical profession.

Ford said people have brought up the Tuskegee syphilis study, in which the U.S. Public Health Service did not treat the 600 sharecroppers in the study, which ran from 1932 until 1972. More than 100 of the participants died from syphilis or a related illness.

Some of the people in the listening sessions have asked whether everyone receiving the vaccine would be receiving the same treatment.

“We understand the fear. The fears are real,” Ford said.

He said most of the listening session participants ultimately decided to get the vaccine after hearing the facts, and those people will serve to influence others.

Recent data from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control revealed that white South Carolinians have been vaccinated against COVID-19 at twice the rate of Black residents and more than three times the rate of Latinos in the state. About a month after the state began vaccinating senior citizens in addition to health care workers, about 5% of Black residents had received the vaccine, compared to about 10% of white residents and about 3% of Latino residents, The State reported.

The disparities in South Carolina mirror trends in states across the country.

Ford said Prisma has been contacted about helping in the Asian community as well.

Prisma Health held its first mobile vaccination clinics last weekend, vaccinating 173 people at Webber Elementary School in Eastover and 85 at Monaghan Baptist Church in Greenville on Feb. 20. The next events will be March 5.

Three mobile vaccination units were bought with a grant from Greenville County government. By summer, three units will be available in the Midlands and three in the Upstate, said Dr. Kerry Sease, who is heading the program.

Sease said zip codes are being used to identify areas where fewer people are being vaccinated. Health care officials and elected officials are helping find partners for where the mobile vans can set up. They are drive-thru appointments and are not listed on the hospital system’s website, so only people in those communities can be vaccinated.