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Posting Data on Vaccinations Available to Minorities is Matter of Trust

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Aqua Porter, executive director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. File photo

Just how many Blacks and Latinos are being vaccinated against COVID-19 is not easy to know.

The state Department of Health has not been forthcoming, which may not surprise anyone who followed the state’s reporting of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes.

It appears the state is repeating its recalcitrance with releasing data.

“We have to have data so we can react to it and we can measure our progress and measure our impact,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said Feb. 25 at his weekly COVID-19 news conference.

Bello said the county is asking the state for numbers, which he pledged to make public. “We have to have that data. It is so critical to this effort.”

When the state posted vaccination data for the first time in mid-February, it provided a bird’s-eye view. Racial and ethnic data was posted by region and the vaccination rate among minorities was posted as a percentage of total population and not as a percentage of people within the racial or ethnic group.

Nevertheless, in data as of Feb. 18 and again as of Feb. 24, African Americans were 4.7% of people in the Finger Lakes region who received at least one dose. African Americans accounted for 8.6% of those eligible.

Hispanics or Latinos made up 2.8% percent of people in the Finger Lakes who had received at least one dose and were 3.5% of those eligible.

As for Monroe County, 118,504 residents, or 16% of the population, had at least one dose as of Feb. 24. There was no racial or ethnic breakdown.

On Feb. 22, the state released data for ZIP codes in Monroe County, but only after the Democrat and Chronicle repeatedly requested the information. That data was shared by the city at a news conference and showed the residents in inner city ZIP codes were being vaccinated at lower rates, in some cases much lower, than people living in other ZIP codes.

When Minority Reporter asked the state health department for a web link to vaccination data by ZIP code, or when that data would be posted and updated, a spokeswoman replied there was no other information available.

The first week of the vaccination site run by the state and federal governments at the former Kodak Hawkeye facility at 1345 St. Paul St. is reserved for residents in underserved ZIP codes. Ironically, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get data about its success to the public.

Bello didn’t give a concrete answer when asked whether the county could count people as they show up for the vaccine and compare that number to sign-ups and the amount of vaccine available for the site.

Wade Norwood, co-chair of the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub and chief executive officer of Common Ground Health, who has been part of several COVID briefings, said the state would provide information from its immunization registry. But that raw data needs to be analyzed and turned into something understandable for residents. He said by April, the public should see a regular stream of racial, ethnic and geographic data on vaccinations.

To get another perspective on the importance of telling city and county residents where the vaccine is going and who is getting it, Minority Reporter talked with Aqua Porter, director of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.

Why is it important that everyone know the number of vaccines available in minority communities, the number of Blacks and Latinos signing up and the number actually receiving the vaccine?

“It’s important that if we’re going to provide an ability for people not to be infected with this virus, that we ensure that those communities, which have been the hardest hit are also the ones that are provided with the opportunity to be taken care of. And we don’t know that unless we have the numbers. … We also know that if you go back, these communities are left out or mistreated by the healthcare sector. They’re either under-cared for, or they’re taken advantage of. They’re also hesitant. … So we have to be even more vigilant to make sure that we’re taking care of those people . …”

The first week of appointments at the Hawkeye site at 1345 St. Paul St. is reserved for residents in certain city ZIP codes. The mayor wants two more weeks reserved for the city. Do you agree there should be more time for those residents?

Absolutely. … First of all it’s going to take us a while to get information to people, to even let them know that this is available to them. And so, a week to get that all set up and have people make appointments is not enough. And by the way, if we say that this community is the priority, then what is the harm in ensuring that we do everything in our power to make sure that they have, they can get appointments. … So let’s let the word get out and then let people respond to it. I think people need a little bit more time.”

What can RMAPI do?

“We have to make sure we advocate to those who are in that (federal and state) government to make sure that they put whatever resources we have behind it. It would be a shame if we had this opportunity set up, we have set up this site specifically in that neighborhood so that there is access to the vaccines for populations that are in that area. And so why would we set out to do all that work to set it up and then not do everything that we can to make sure that there are available appointments.”

Why does it matter to people in the suburbs if more appointments at the Hawkeye site are reserved for residents in select city ZIP codes?

“As a community, we’re trying to reach herd immunity. And that means that we have to have participation by as many people in our community as possible. So if we don’t do everything possible to get to parts of our community that have historically been left out of these opportunities, we will not as a community reach herd immunity, and that’s not going to really matter where you live. We know that that virus travels and quite frankly, the people who are in these communities who have been serving larger parts of the community through their work – frontline workers — if they’re not protected, they are going to be the people who we find continue to pass the virus on into their own families, which we don’t want, because everyone else will be protected.

“As a community, we have to take care of one another and that’s our way to get there. If you can come from Ogden or Penfield or Pittsford into a Hawkeye site, then you probably have better access to transportation and mobility. What’s trying to be done is making sure that we take down the barriers and the hurdles for people who are living in (the city neighborhoods).”

Back to publishing data on which populations are receiving vaccine. Is it important for government to publish data so people trust the system?

“Absolutely. We have to have the data, we have to be transparent and we have to show people that there is real progress being made. We have to earn that trust. And there are so many times in the past, and currently, where there isn’t trust and there aren’t numbers and the transparency isn’t there, that I understand why people are skeptical and they should be, and they should push back to make sure that the numbers are available. I think the lack of numbers or the lack of why there aren’t numbers makes people even more skeptical.

“I hope that someone is working to make sure that … in Monroe County, even the nine county region, we actually show by race, ethnicity and location who’s getting vaccinated on a regular basis so that we can know overall our community is protected and those who want the vaccine have access to it. I think those are important facts to make sure are available.”