Oklahoma Says Equitable Vaccine Distribution To Communities Of Color A 'Top Priority'

Jan 25, 2021


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma health officials plan to work with retailers and faith leaders in minority communities across the state to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health plans to unveil vaccine dispensing sites in minority communities across the state in the coming weeks, Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said Friday.

“Ensuring equitable access to vaccines for Oklahomans across the state is a top priority,” Reed said. “Research shows disparities in both the number of COVID-19 cases and the willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine among these communities.”

Reed also encouraged Oklahomans to fill out information on their ethnicity when registering for a vaccine on the state’s online vaccine portal and noted that currently about 22% of those registering are not including information about their ethnicity.

“While this information is voluntary, we strongly encourage Oklahomans to provide this information as you register,” Reed said. “This helps us to make sure distribution of the vaccine is equitable and that we’re reaching Oklahomans in minority communities who need this vaccine as well.”

Dr. Christopher Harris, chief resident for family and preventive medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, said at a virtual press conference earlier this month that that many Black Americans have legitimate concerns, and health care providers and public health officials must come at the issue from a place of understanding.

"When we talk about acceptance of the vaccine and the hesitancy of getting the vaccine, we have to remember the historical context, especially amongst minorities and African Americans, throughout this country's history, and things that have caused that level of hesitancy and skepticism when it comes to not only the COVID vaccine but health care in general," Harris said. "Dating all the way back to the Tuskegee experiment and to a multitude of other events, health care and non-health care-related, up until the present day."

On CBS News this month, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. discussed similar issues in Indian Country.

"There is some hesitancy. People have to understand the history of Native Americans and health care is, by and large, a history of the government of the United States attempting to provide health care directly and more often than not failing," Hoskin said.

He said using trusted messengers to demonstrate the vaccine's safety and importance has been a successful strategy.

"Here is what I think is the most effective thing, more effective than the Chief of the Cherokee Nation saying it: When we had those fluent speakers, many of them are revered elders, take the vaccine and smile about it and we put that on social media, they were our most effective messengers," Hoskin said. "And I think I've seen some of the doubts melt away as our elders have led the way, and that's very important."