‘We can’t afford to wait’: It’s time Kern prioritizes people of color during COVID-19 vaccination rollout

February 12, 2021 /

Reyna Olaguez

For all of us who live in Kern County, this is one of the most chilling headlines we can read: “How is vaccination going in Kern County? Good question.” The Bakersfield Californian published this just a few days ago, and it should make all of us very nervous.

How do we not have a clear answer about the number of vaccinations the county has received and how many have been administered? Who has received the shots? Are more vaccinations on the way? Will there be several vaccination sites? Who is giving the shots?

The headline is striking enough, but the story goes onto explain that “the existing state data—which Kern County officials dispute—shows Kern has one of the lowest vaccination rates per capita among the state’s counties with populations of 100,000 or more.”

Meanwhile, we all know the pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color, where the number of cases and death rate are much higher than in White communities. It’s well documented that in areas across the state and the nation, Black and Brown folks are getting vaccinated at much lower rates that their White counter parts.

According to The Guardian, “an early look at…17 states and two cities that have released racial breakdowns through Jan. 25 found that Black people in all places are getting inoculated at levels below their share of the general population, in some cases significantly below.

That is true even though they constitute an oversize percentage of the nation’s healthcare workers, who were put at the front of the line for shots when the campaign began in mid-December.”

CNN reports that a study of 14 states found “vaccine coverage is twice as high among White people on average than it is among Black and Latino people.”

No doubt, fear and distrust among communities of color contribute to this discrepancy. In the past, racist, and often times dangerous, health policies and clinical experiments have targeted particularly vulnerable Black and Brown communities.

Clearly, our fears are valid, but I believe our elected officials and decision makers need to commit to a greater outreach effort to not only make sure communities of color get vaccinated, but emphasize that is safe for us to do so.

We’re ready to help. Our elected officials and others in charge need to rely on organizations and trusted messengers like Building Healthy Communities Kern, Faith in Kern, Vision y Compromiso and many others to ensure that communities of color are hearing real facts from real people who look like them, understand their cultures and speak their languages.

We’ve seen deadly and unfair treatment of people of color at the hands of law enforcement. We’ve seen the devastating impacts that redlining has had on Black and Brown people. Unfortunately, there are many examples that we’ve seen that exhibit the depths to which humanity can sink, now we need to witness the heights to which it can soar.

Now is the time for Kern County to get a handle on the vaccination program, ensure people of color have the same opportunity to get vaccinated as White people and make it clear how safe the vaccine is.

We can’t afford to wait.