According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, African Americans make up 16% of the population in Florida. But as of Feb. 1, only 6% of the over two million Floridians vaccinated are African Americans.
Their data also shows that Hispanics make up 27% of the total population and a disproportionate 37% of COVID cases in Florida, but only 15% of individuals vaccinated.
Legislators and members of the Florida healthcare community met Monday evening in the last of their four-part town hall meeting series to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, hosted by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.
Florida legislators joined Monday’s conversation to provide information on how the government has and will continue to intervene in this battle.
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said legislators can start by pushing for greater vaccine access in the Black community.
“So we know that through the Department of Emergency Management there have been efforts to collaborate with churches in the Black community to get our community members who are 65 and older vaccinated. That is a great start but that has not gotten us near to where we need to be,” Driskell said.
The vaccine has been made accessible to over 33,000 individuals at Black churches across the state. This has lessened the gap between those with access to internet service and those who do not. Additionally, it has helped elders who may not feel comfortable navigating the internet to book an appointment.
“We realize that some of the vulnerable communities aren’t able to sit on the internet and wait to get the vaccine from [a place like] Publix. They may not even live close to a Publix,” Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, said. “It is our job as legislators to kind of work within the system to make access easier.”
Driskell said the data on vaccine rates among different races and ethnicities is crucial because it allows a push for data-driven legislation. “We can say that this is a problem — what are we going to do to push for greater access?”
Organizations like the Florida Health Equity Research Institute have been established to help minimize medical disparities suffered in our state and improve the overall health of the medically underserved population.
HERI members B. Lee Green, vice president of Diversity, Public Relations and Strategic Communication for Moffitt Cancer Center and Penny Ralston, director of the Center on Better Health and Life for Underserved Populations, said there is a pipeline issue of underrepresented groups in the health and medical professions field.
“Florida is one of the most diverse states in the US yet our workforce may not reflect this diversity, so I think that’s a part of the whole pipeline issue,” Green said.
HERI also conducts hands-on mentoring summer research experiences that have educated over 1,000 young individuals on health careers.
Some panelist members said the change in government and President Biden’s indications of increasing vaccine supply can allow for better access to minority communities.
“With greater supply I think we will be able to reach community-level immunity,” Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said. “If there are any pockets of individuals, if there are any populations who are not getting the vaccine, then it puts in jeopardy all of the other people and so in order to reach community-level immunity, we have got to make sure that every segment of our population has access to the vaccine.”
According to Shamarial Roberson, deputy secretary of health at Florida Department of Health, FEMA is in the process of implementing a minority strategy from the federal government, which would provide additional vaccines to help close the current racial disparity gap. This allocation will be in addition to current state allocation. The initiative is set to launch in early March.
Editor’s note: The Kaiser Family Foundation race and ethnicity categories as percentages of total population may add up to more than 100% due to individuals marking off more than one racial category on the census.