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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

To Reach Minorities, Mecklenburg (Very Quietly) Holds Special Vaccination Clinics

vaccine clinic.jpg
Steve Harrison/WFAE
Mecklenburg County last week held a vaccination clinic at the Hindu Center in east Charlotte.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department holds large, heavily publicized COVID-19 vaccination events at places like Bojangles Coliseum.

But the county is also doing something else: Small events in low-income communities, where the county relies on word-of-mouth to draw people. It doesn’t promote them with a media blitz.

One was a clinic last Saturday at the Hindu Center in east Charlotte.

A large meeting room was filled with tables for health care professionals to administer the vaccine to 250 members of the city’s immigrant community: Venezuelan-Americans. Bhutanese-Americans. Indian-Americans.

Mecklenburg County didn’t promote it by Twitter or Facebook or with a news release.

“We don’t publicize them broadly,” said Raynard Washington, Mecklenburg County’s deputy health director. “If we were to put a list of all these sites on the (web)site, they would more likely be taken up by people who have access to broadband, smartphones. Which, frankly, a lot of our older seniors in low-income areas don’t have access to.”

That is to say, if the vaccination event was promoted broadly, county health officials worry the pop-up clinic would have been overwhelmed – by people who are already overrepresented in high-demand COVID-19 vaccinations.

That would be white people. White people are 64.5% of the county’s population 65 and older. They have received 70.5% of first vaccine doses given, according to the health department.

African Americans are 26% of the senior population and have received just under 17% of first doses.

So the Hindu Center clinic was conducted like a game of telephone. The county reached out to community leaders, who then spread the word to people they know.

Magbis Nunez Love with the Alliance of Venezuelans in Charlotte said some people are intimidated by the difficulties in getting an appointment.

“Some of them don’t know how they can get to the website,” she said. “That’s why we decide to help them — to be like a bridge. So we invite all of the Venezuelan community to come. We call them, we post in the Facebook page that we are here. So they start to call us. Because they know our organization and they trust. And if you have trust it would be easier to come.”

Bishnu Gurunz, a leader in the Bhutanese community, signed up 28 people to be vaccinated. If the only option were the mass clinic at Bojangles, he says some wouldn’t get the shot.

“A 50-50 chance,” he said. “Some people may go there. Some people may have a transportation problem.”

The county’s medical director, Meg Sullivan, said the county has for years brought health care to minority communities.

What’s new about COVID-19, she said, is that because vaccine demand is so high, high-income people will come to low-income areas if given the chance.

“So, putting something out in the public, you know there are certain times for that,” she said. “And we do that with some of our appointments at Bojangles where we say, 'Hey, here are some appointments and we want to provide access to all.'”

So, complementing the massive clinics at Bojangles and the Spectrum Center, the county has held 25 small, community word of mouth vaccination events.

“(We) aren’t trying to exclude anyone,” Sullivan said. “It’s just recognizing that for some people, there are multiple options. And for others — if this is their only opportunity — that’s who we need to focus on for these events.”

While Black and Hispanic people are lagging in getting the vaccine, the impact of the coronavirus in terms of Mecklenburg COVID-19 deaths has been more even.

The census estimates non-Hispanic whites are 47% of the county residents, and they make up 47% of deaths.

African Americans are 33% of the county population and 36% of COVID-19 deaths.

Hispanics are 14% of the county population and 12% of deaths.

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