SACRAMENTO – After a group’s demands for greater equity and access in COVID-19 vaccine distribution fell on deaf ears, the group of concerned citizens says it remains focused on change.

Sacramentans Advocating for Vaccine Equity (SAVE) sent its initial letter out last Wednesday 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. The missive came after the governor’s office released data that showed that of the thousands of people who have received the vaccine to date, vaccines had only gone to 3 percent of African Americans statewide and 4 percent in Sacramento County.

Sacramento County Board of Supervisors Chair Sue Frost doesn’t see a problem.

“This disparity is a reflection of the underrepresentation of African Americans and other communities of color in the occupations that were initially prioritized for vaccination, rather than a reflection of outreach efforts,” she wrote in her response letter dated February 22.

One member of the SAVE group said Ms. Frost’s response missed the mark, because it alluded to the work that has been done related to the COVID-19 pandemic in general, not the work that needs to be done for vaccine equity. SAVE issued a second letter, addressed directly to Ms. Frost. The second letter reiterates the group’s intent and that they are intent on seeing better results for the Black community.

“To be clear, as stated in our previous letter, our concern is the inequitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine that is happening now without any clear plan to address it,” reads the second SAVE letter dated February 24.
“The disproportionate vaccine distribution data has served as a warning for our community that, once again, if we as a region are not intentional with our efforts, our most vulnerable will suffer. Simply saying that the disparities in the rollout are a “reflection of the underrepresentation of Blacks in the occupations that were initially prioritized for vaccination” is not sufficient. We have observed targeted vaccination sites in very affluent neighborhoods as well as in other culturally appropriate locations. Our community seems to lag behind, and the data reflect it.”

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.

“We are not seeking to lay blame on any one agency — we are seeking sensitivity from our leaders to include our community to be part of the solution related to the rollout of the vaccine,” reads the second vaccine response letter.

Letter signees include Faye Wilson Kennedy and Kevin Carter of the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign; Sierra Health Foundation CEO Chet Hewitt, Greater Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams, Genesis Baptist Church pastor Tecoy Porter and former City Councilmember Lauren Hammond.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer