Getting the COVID-19 vaccine out to underserved minority populations in our community and overcoming some historic hesitancy to get the shot were the twin aims of an event at Shiloh Baptist Church on Wednesday. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton and several community and faith leaders came together to address the public health issue. WUKY's Alan Lytle reports.
With a commitment to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccinations across Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear is working with the Lexington chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Today at Shiloh Baptist Church, 10 members of the community voiced confidence in and rolled up their sleeves to receive the Moderna vaccine.
Gov. Beshear joined five local leaders to help overcome hesitancy and distrust.
“Thought leaders from many communities are stepping forward from all over the state, asking what they can do and how they can help,” said Gov. Beshear. “Today, prominent African-Americans in Lexington are speaking out. Their words of encouragement for receiving the shot help break down some of the barriers that can lead to vaccine inequity.”
“I was initially reluctant to take the vaccine because of historical reasons,” said the Rev. Jim Thurman, president of the NAACP Lexington-Fayette County Branch. “After much prayer, I saw the value of being vaccinated. COVID-19 was, and still is, hitting the African-American community and other communities of people of color, much harder. We need the vaccine.”
Rev. Thurman helped organize today’s event, assembling leaders such as State Rep. George Brown Jr., who noted, “I’m aware of the apprehension of Black and brown communities.” He added, “Based on the science, the vaccine appears to be the best defense available. I, therefore, encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”
While Blacks make up approximately 8.4% of Kentucky’s population, they account for about 4.6% of those who have been vaccinated so far.
The Beshear administration is committed to addressing vaccine hesitancy and equity that stems from programmatic, societal and historical causes.
“The COVID-19 virus has hit the African-American community especially hard,” said Sen. Reginald Thomas. “I appreciate the Governor being here to promote and stress the importance of being vaccinated. We must encourage all Kentuckians to do the same, which will lead to a safer and healthier community going forward.”
“We need to continue to listen to those holding us accountable and take action,” Gov. Beshear said. “We are not satisfied and we will continue to work to vaccinate every Kentuckian.”
The Beshear administration is working with community leaders, health care providers, pharmacies and others to increase the number of vaccination sites. There are approximately 300 such clinics around the state and growing, with a focus on expanding in every community.
“Equitable distribution is a foundational piece of vaccine distribution,” the Governor said. “This administration will continue this outreach, and the Department for Public Health’s Office of Health Equity will continue to be engaged in all aspects of vaccine rollout and help build on our commitment to equity.”
Providing transportation to and from vaccination sites is critically important. Blue Grass Community Action Partnership is offering free transportation to residents within its 11-county service territory with round-trip transportation from their home to either the Kentucky Horse Park or Ephraim McDowell Hospital. In addition, the University of Kentucky is offering equity outreach clinics on Saturdays in areas underserved due to race, language, economic and other barriers.
The University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare supported today’s event by providing and administering vaccines.
“We are the University of, for and with Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “That call to service – and commitment to the commonwealth – has never been more essential. At this time and in this moment, we called to provide hope and healing where access to care has been limited. It is a privilege and a responsibility to work with the Commonwealth and Gov. Beshear on this important initiative at such a critical moment for the state we serve.”
The City of Lexington is also a key partner in fighting COVID. Mayor Linda Gorton thanked the faith and civic leaders at Shiloh Baptist on Wednesday.
“Their leadership will play a critical role in the success of the vaccine in the African-American community,” Mayor Linda Gorton said. “We know we have work to do in Lexington. Of the first doses that have been administered in Fayette County, only 5.7% went to African-Americans, even though African-Americans are catching and dying from the disease at a high rate. We are working to take the vaccine into the neighborhoods through a mobile clinic, including one here at Shiloh, and have launched a public awareness campaign that emphasizes the importance of getting a vaccine when it’s your turn.”
The Beshear administration has conducted listening sessions with nearly 60 community leaders representing disparate communities across the state. From Eastern Kentucky to west Louisville to the Land Between the Lakes, a common theme was heard among these groups. They want to hear from trusted people in their respective communities on why it’s important to take the vaccine. This, along with fact-based information, will help alleviate vaccine hesitancy.
“Trust the people in your own communities. Trust those you look up to. And talk to health care experts,” said Beshear. “Today, we are thankful to the Lexington leaders in the African-American community who are helping all of us defeat this virus that has taken too many lives.”