When the COVID-19 vaccines first hit Iowa eight months ago, Blacks faced many barriers to getting one: supply, access, transportation, technology, lack of outreach, misinformation, disinformation and mistrust.
Despite the state’s vaccination efforts during the last eight months, vaccine inequality remains a problem. White Iowans have at least a two times higher vaccination rate with one dose than Black Iowans, 48% vs 24%, respectively, according to an Aug. 4 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. South Dakota and Iowa tied for the worst white-to-Black ratios among 40 states analyzed.
Blacks make up 4% of the state’s population, and the pandemic has claimed more than 160 Black lives. Now there's a new foe — the highly transmissible delta variant, which accounts for 99% of the nation’s cases. Vaccination is an urgent need to prevent more hospitalization, disability and death.
To ensure the surge caused by delta doesn’t overwhelm Black communities in Iowa, something has to happen — and fast.
Delta is not the same coronavirus the world experienced in 2020. It infects more people, it's disproportionately targeting the unvaccinated, children are being hospitalized and dying, and it is causing rare breakthrough cases in the vaccinated. Medical professionals have pleaded with the public to get vaccinated, and in Iowa, COVID-19 tests, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all ticked upward, according to the New York Times database.
During a time when 95 of Iowa’s 99 counties have high or substantial spread of the virus, nearly a million people are projected to have attended the Iowa State Fair by the time it wraps up on Aug. 22. And, in the coming days and weeks, hundreds of thousands of educators and students will fill Iowa classrooms in a state that has outlawed face mask mandates in cities, counties and schools — even as some have called for the ban to be rescinded.
The ramifications of these actions could have a detrimental effect on already vulnerable communities whose work has been essential during the pandemic. Iowa’s low vaccination rate for Black Iowans is rarely addressed and vaccinations must be increased to avoid more loss and heartache. As much as we want it to end, the pandemic isn't over.
I founded Black Iowa News 16 months ago to share information about the seriousness of pandemic and chronicle what was happening in the state. Since then, I have written stories about vaccine equity, bias in health care and the politicizing of the pandemic. The more than half dozen doctors I’ve interviewed this year have all agreed: The vaccines are safe, effective and designed to help keep people out of the hospital and off ventilators.
Like in the beginning of the pandemic, I’m starting to see a steady stream of stories about Blacks who have died of COVID-19 — but now I’m seeing more stories about children dying as the pandemic continues its deadly assault.
Delta’s urgency and the vaccination inequities where I live have spurred me to act in my own neighborhood.
When my husband and I received our first dose of the Moderna vaccine last March, joy flooded my spirit. I want other families to experience the protection that vaccination has to offer and help more of them stay out of hospital ICUs or worse.
I want to make it easier for people to get vaccinated. Not everyone has a doctor. Not everyone feels comfortable walking into a busy pharmacy or crowded event to get vaccinated. Maybe people will feel more comfortable if they can walk or drive a few blocks within their neighborhood to get vaccinated with their neighbors, or with people whose race and culture they share. Maybe it will help to build some trust.
No one wants to be saddled with thousands of dollars in medical debt or experience long COVID-19 symptoms, which can persist indefinitely. No one wants to bring home a deadly virus to their loved ones, including children under 12 who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated.
That’s why Black Iowa News partnered with Christ Apostolic Temple for “ROLL UP! COVID-19 Mobile Vaccination Clinic where we hope to vaccinate 100 people. The event will be held from 9 a.m. - Noon, Saturday, Aug. 28 at Christ Apostolic Temple, 1230 17th St. in Des Moines. The Pfizer vaccine will be administered by Hy-Vee, which operates grocery stores and nine mobile vaccination buses. The first 100 people will receive care packages courtesy of AARP Iowa and more. Kids ages 12 and up can be vaccinated and must be accompanied by a parent. Everyone is welcome. Masking and social distancing rules will be observed.
Bishop Dwight Reed, pastor of Christ Apostolic Temple, which has more than 500 congregants, didn’t hesitate when I asked if he wanted to work together on bringing a vaccination clinic to our neighborhood.
We agree it's important for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Maybe it’ll be easier in a place where they’re already comfortable, or surrounded by their neighbors. Maybe knowing that we care enough will be what's needed to encourage those who have remained hesitant and who have lingering concerns to get their questions answered and move from unvaccinated to vaccinated.
Eight months have elapsed since the vaccines first hit Iowa, and many barriers have fallen. It’s time to tackle the remaining ones before it’s too late.