COVID-19 vaccination rate increases among black Georgians

The data shows that the gap in COVID-19 vaccination rates between black and white residents of Georgia has nearly closed.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that state figures show the rate of black Georgians who have been vaccinated with at least one vaccine is now 52.3%, compared to 53% for whites.

Rates for both groups are about 10 percentage points lower than the overall state average for COVID-19 vaccination, according to the state Department of Public Health. Hispanics (55%), Native Americans (69.7%) and Asian Americans (94.9%) all have higher vaccination rates

But the state remains one of the least vaccinated in the country. DeKalb County Health Director Dr. Sandra J. Valenciano said she and others continue to promote community outreach, anti-misinformation campaigns and mobile clinics across Georgia.

“COVID-19 is basically here to stay,” Valenciano told the newspaper. “If you are fully vaccinated and eligible for the booster, do it. If you are not vaccinated, getting vaccinated protects you and helps protect your community.

Two years into the pandemic and even with increased vaccinations among black residents, the coronavirus continues to harm them disproportionately.

Nationally, African Americans are between two and three times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than a non-Hispanic white person of the same age, according to federal data.

Dr. Lilly Immergluck, professor and director of the Pediatric Clinical and Translational Research Unit at Morehouse School of Medicine, said African Americans are more likely to lack health insurance or a primary care physician. They are more likely, she said, to work in high-risk front-line jobs and to have other health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“COVID only amplifies the pre-existing situation we’ve had all along with health disparities and inequalities,” Immergluck said.

At the start of the pandemic, black residents accounted for nearly half of hospitalizations and deaths, despite making up only a third of the state’s population. That disparity has narrowed, with African Americans now accounting for 44% of hospitalizations and about a third of deaths.

Covington pediatrician Dr. Samira Brown said many of her patients are unaware of COVID-19 treatments beyond vaccines and still struggle to access testing. Nationally, access to antiviral pills and monoclonal antibody therapies is uneven, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed.

“Trust and access are huge issues, especially for the black community,” she said.

Rural Hancock County in eastern Georgia, where 71% of residents are black, has the nation’s third-highest death rate from COVID-19

One of Georgia’s poorest counties, its hospital closed two decades ago. Today, the county of 8,700 people has two full-time doctors and a third who practices part-time.

Hancock County Coroner Adrick Ingram, who also owns a funeral home, said the respiratory illness left him exhausted.

“To see people I know, literally that I know, who have died of COVID when I walk through the door,” he said.

The virus has killed friends and political supporters. Ingram said after the stress of the pandemic, he no longer plans to seek a third term in 2024.

“I think a lot of deaths could have been avoided,” he said.

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