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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Racial Disparities In Vaccine Distribution Persist In Hamilton County

covid-19 racial disparities
Ohio Department of Health
Graphic: Flourish
As of Feb. 16, Black residents of Hamilton County are still disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and are not getting a proportionate share of the vaccine.

Less than 5% of Black Hamilton County residents are vaccinated for COVID-19, compared to about 12.5% of white residents. Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman says he's working with partner organizations to improve messaging.

"I can talk all day in my public health terms, but if that's not the way that people need to hear the message, then they're not going to change their behavior," Kesterman told county commissioners Tuesday.

Black Hamilton County residents make up 40% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and 26% of deaths, but only about 11% of vaccinations so far.

"Myself and many partners are encouraging everyone to dedicate at least 20% of the vaccine that we receive to minority communities," Kesterman said. "We really want to see those numbers for minorities that receive vaccine increase here in Hamilton County."

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found 43% of Black and Hispanic Americans don't want to get the vaccine right now — nearly double the number of white Americans choosing a "wait and see" approach.

Credit Kaiser Family Foundation

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says vaccine equity is a problem everyone needs to confront.

"African Americans, at times, have a distrust for our healthcare system," he told WVXU. "That's why it is incredibly important for leaders like myself to be outspoken about the importance of taking the vaccination. The movement of saying Black Lives Matter can't just be a discussion about police and unarmed African Americans. It must be a broad discussion about public policy, and health care being a center of that."

Smitherman said his own 82-year-old mother has gotten the vaccine, and he plans to get the shot when he's eligible.

Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday the state will keep eligibility at Ohioans age 65 and older for a couple of weeks. That's in addition to the high-risk and high-exposure groups prioritized in the state's vaccination plan.

Both Kesterman and Smitherman say it's important to bring the vaccine into trusted community spaces, like churches and long-standing health clinics.

County commissioners are working on a letter to send Gov. DeWine by Friday, asking him to send more doses to public health departments.

"Eventually we're going to get more doses," said Commissioner Denise Driehaus. "And as they become available, public health [should be] way at the top of the list, because we are hitting the targeted population who need it the most."