Aurora coalition works to deliver COVID-19 vaccine shots to Black, Hispanic residents
Black and Hispanic suburbanites are being left behind in the fight against COVID-19, Aurora civic and religious leaders said Tuesday before opening a vaccination clinic for more than 750 minority residents.
Less than 3% of COVID-19 vaccine doses have gone to people in the Black community in both DuPage and Kane counties, officials said. The discrepancy led to the formation of Black Vax Aurora, a group that includes churches, sororities and fraternities, civil rights organizations, and elected officials.
"Disparity in minority communities is nothing new, but now we're dealing with a deadly pandemic, and the black and brown and poor communities of America are suffering the burden at a higher rate," Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin said.
"This dismal rate of vaccine distribution was the catalyst for the formation of the coalition. We could have pointed the finger, we could have blamed others, we could have just talked about the problem, but we didn't."
It took just 24 hours to reach capacity at the clinic, Irvin said. "Clearly, the demand is there, but we also know the distrust, mistrust and hesitancy is also there."
Gov. J.B. Pritzker noted that "people are more likely to get vaccinated when they hear about it from people they trust. By working with pastors and other community leaders, Aurora is respecting that reality."
The clinic at the Cathedral of Grace St. John AME Church is the first of multiple events to educate and vaccinate minority residents in Aurora. An additional vaccination session for Hispanic residents will follow March 19, and one for individuals with disabilities is set for March 25.
Aurora isn't an outlier. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control have said that minorities are more likely to contract the virus and suffer worse outcomes than white Americans.
Contributing factors are lack of insurance and access to health care services, and high rates of comorbidities like diabetes and asthma, said Theodia Gillespie, Quad County Urban League president.
"The problem is made worse by the fact many minorities work in low-wage jobs, can't work from home and have to take public transit to work," she said. "Both increase the likelihood of exposure to this disease."
One reason for vaccine distrust is the federal government's 40-year Tuskegee Study of Black men with syphilis who were never offered penicillin to treat their symptoms.
At the event, a number of Black leaders were inoculated to encourage others to follow suit. DuPage and Kane counties' health departments provided the vaccines.
"We have watched and tracked this pandemic across DuPage County," DuPage County Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala said. "We have seen that the case rate among Black DuPage residents stands at 1.3 times higher than white DuPage residents."
"We've also seen the incredible challenges that are brought when you look at the hospitalization rate that stands at 1.7 times higher (for Black DuPage residents)," she said. "The vaccination effort today represents an ongoing commitment to address health inequities that have been exacerbated by the current pandemic."
For information, go to blackvaxaurora.