CUTLER BAY — Despite the fact that Black communities are among the hardest hit by COVID-19, new data from the Florida Department of Health shows that only 6% of the Black community in Miami-Dade County has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
As vaccination rollout continues in Florida, closing gaps in racial disparity remains a problem for health and state officials.
According to a new Miami Herald analysis, the Miami-Dade zip code with the highest rates of vaccination goes to Fisher Island, whose residents’ median income is $2.2 million.
Opa-Locka comes in at the lowest vaccination rate, and 53% of its residents are African American and living in poverty, according to U.S. Census data.
Cliff Thomas, the Co-Chair of the Health and Wellness Committee in the Miami-Dade Black Affairs Advisory Board says this problem of inequality in the African American community is not new, especially when it comes to healthcare.
“There are multiple barriers affecting the community,” Thomas said. “There’s distrust in the healthcare industry because of circumstances like the Tuskegee experiment. There’s also more systematic issues at play such as the vaccine not being accessible in many African American communities.”
The Tuskegee Experiment refers to a mid-20th Century study that recruited African American men with the promise of free medical care as a way to study the progress of syphilis.
To track the full progression of the disease 399 African American men with Syphilis were knowingly treated with placebos, despite penicillin comings the recommended treatment for Syphilis.
Since none of the men received proper medical care, most died, went blind, or went insane due to the untreated illness. This went on until 1972.
Thomas says these memories still live in many African Americans; memories, leading to their “wait and see” approach to see the vaccine’s long-term effects before rushing to get one themselves.
To address some of these concerns, the NAACP hosted a series of virtual town halls with medical experts. The efforts remain ongoing: The Florida Legislative Black Caucus on Monday hosted one of its own town halls, too.
During a late December meeting, a handful of Black experts gathered to talk about plans for vaccinations, including Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a senior research fellow at the National Institution of Health.
“It is at no fault of your own that you do not trust a system that has done you and your ancestors wrong for hundreds of years,” Corbett said, “and the questions that you ask are on people like us to answer.”
According to Corbett, the Moderna vaccine, one of the leading vaccinations right now, had 6% of African Americans making up their participants in their phase three trials.
“If we’re going to be able to sit on panels like this and tell people of color that the vaccine is safe and effective for them,” Corbett said, “we need to increase the representation of people of color in the phases of clinical trials.”
Even for people who are willing and ready to get their shot, access remains an issue for Black communities. Dr. David Brown, a coronavirus expert at Florida International University, said the problem boils down to who has more money.
“There’s a limited supply of vaccine,” Brown said, “and these preferentially tend to go towards the wealthy and powerful who are able to use connections to get the vaccine.”
Brown alluded to the fact that the Black community has always been subject to “the medical apartheid.”
“There’s a long-standing principle that’s been termed the inverse care law,” Brown said. “Those who need most care get the least, and those who need it least get the most.”
Even with organizations and leaders stepping in to help, the Black community still has a long way to go in the fight for equal vaccinations.
On Jan. 26, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that the state of Florida had given primary vaccine distribution rights to Publix grocery stores. This means poor neighborhoods lacking a Publix will continue to fight for access to the vaccine.
In a U.S. News & World Report article, Black farmers on Lake Okeechobee’s shores spoke out about what the deal would mean to their community, whose nearest Publix is 25 miles away.
“Before we focus on other factors, we must first identify the low hanging fruit and concerns of the African American community,” Thomas said, “and work with them to aid in this process.”