SACRAMENTO COUNTY – After continued demands from the community for transparent data on the COVID-19 vaccination distribution, Gov. Gavin Newsom revealed a stark reality — of the thousands who have received the vaccine, just 3 percent statewide are African American and 4 percent in Sacramento County are African American.

Area community leaders are calling for a “fair and equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine” and have penned an open letter demanding action and better outreach. Sacramentans Advocating for Vaccine Equity (SAVE) sent the letter out on Wednesday night to members of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye, representatives of health providers such as Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health and other stakeholders.

“It is during difficult times such as these that we need our systems and agencies to perform for us. However, data continue to reveal that despite our best efforts, they continue to fail us,” reads the letter.

SAVE is calling on County officials to: convene an African American COVID-19 Vaccine Committee to help inform steps the County and health systems will be taking to address the health crisis as it related to the African American community; establish regular and transparent dialogue with the African American community about the availability of state and federal resources that will be received by distributors to address the vaccine rollout; open multiple vaccination distribution sites in areas where the target population can access them — with particular attention given to the homeless population; a review and oversight of the distribution plans and ongoing performance of health care providers and big-box pharmacy companies such as CVS and Walgreens related to the outreach and inclusion of African Americans; publish and maintain a comprehensive, up-to-date listing of all vaccination sites with dates, times and tiers; launch a targeted community outreach and education campaign to motivate and inform the African American community to participate in the vaccination effort.

SAVE spokesperson Faye Wilson Kennedy said the goal is to have decision-makers “see” that there is a problem and “step up in support of the most vulnerable in our community during this crisis.”

Ms. Kennedy said the dismal number of African Americans getting the vaccine locally goes deeper than a mistrust of vaccines. Folks simply aren’t being informed about how and where to get it, she said.

“If you don’t know, you can’t show up,” Ms. Kennedy said.

County officials had previously said they expected some of the neighborhood testing sites for COVID-19 to be turned into vaccination clinics when the roll-out began.

“We’re still waiting,” Ms. Kennedy said.

It took her and her husband, fellow activist Carl Pinkston, nearly three weeks to finally find a way to make an appointment for the shot. Both are members of Kaiser Permanente, but neither got a call from the provider when it got vaccines to distribute. Both Ms. Kennedy and Pinkston are over 65 and he has a chronic health condition, asthma, which is supposed to make him a priority. They ultimately got the vaccination last week at a drive-through site hosted by Dignity Health at Sacramento City College.

“One of the other things that concerned me is that we didn’t see any other Black people,” Ms. Kennedy said.

Ms. Kennedy said African Americans are often accused of playing the race card or “whining and crying,” when calling out disparities, but SAVE will continue to do so.

“We have to take care of ourselves,” she said.

“You can’t be an advocate for yourself, if you don’t know,” she continued.

Upon seeing the letter, local attorney Amina Merritt shared her own experience and frustration with the vaccination roll-out.

“About two weeks ago, before seeing the Sacramento County data on numbers vaccinated, I complained on the California Public Health Dept. Diversity & Inclusion webpage about the lack of vaccine sites in our community. I never received an acknowledgment or response,” Ms. Merritt shared.

“I also complained because I personally know two White women under the age of 60 with no health conditions who received vaccines because they have friends in Carmichael and Roseville who own med clinics. I know several people over 70, many at Allen Chapel in Del Paso Heights, who want a vaccine and can’t get one, so they need to stop the lie that we need to be educated and encouraged to get it. We want it. Where is it?” she continued.

By Genoa Barrow |OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer