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Fact Check: Did Mecklenburg County Start Vaccinating People In Huntersville And Cornelius Before Charlotte's West Side?

John Boal/John Boal Photography/Novant Health
Mecklenburg County has staged more than 300 small vaccine clinics since January.

Vaccination rates in Mecklenburg County are higher than the state average but are unevenly distributed throughout the county.

Affluent, white areas of the county have higher vaccination rates than low-income areas like Charlotte’s west side.

Mecklenburg Commissioner Vilma Leake puts some of the blame on the Mecklenburg County Health Department. She said at a commission meeting last month that the health department started administering vaccines in wealthy towns in North Mecklenburg – and not in her district.

WFAE Morning Edition host spoke with WFAE reporter Steve Harrison about this question.

Marshall Terry: So Steve, let’s start off by looking at overall vaccination rates in the county in terms of who has gotten the shot and who hasn’t.

Steve Harrison: Sure. So in the county, 69% of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s higher than the state average of 66% but lower than the nation overall, which is 75%, according to the CDC.

And the Mecklenburg County Health department puts out a map of vaccination rates by census tracts. And some of the lowest rates of vaccination are on the west side, in Leake’s district. Areas just east of the airport have fewer than 35% of residents full vaccinated.

And you compare that to wealthy areas like Huntersville or south Charlotte where between 71 and 92% of the population is vaccinated.

So those are really big disparities, and county commissioners have wanted to close those gaps.

Terry: And so what did Leake say about the disparities?

Harrison: At a Commission meeting last month, Leake said the health department has fallen down on the job.

Leake: And when we began the process of beginning the process of making sure that communities were being given the injections, we didn’t start on the west side of the town. We started in Huntersville, we started in Cornelius.

Mecklenburg County
Vilma Leake

Harrison: I reached out to Leake to get more information, and couldn’t reach her.

Terry: OK Steve, so is that true, that the county started vaccinations in those towns rather than the west side of Charlotte?

Harrison: So to fact check this we went to the health department and asked for a list of every vaccination clinic they have operated.

And the biggest main vaccination site, of course, was at Bojangles Coliseum. That’s not on the west side, but it’s a centrally located area. Its ZIP code – 28205 – has an average per capita income of about $34,000, and that’s below the county’s average of about $38,000. It’s also very diverse – there’s a mix of white, Black, and Hispanic residents.

The county also a mass vaccination site at MEDIC’s headquarters on Wikinson Boulevard, which is in the heart of west Charlotte and in Leake’s district. And the county also delivered vaccines at the two offices of the county health department – one on Beatties Ford Road, which is in Leake’s district. The other is on Billingsley Road, which is in Grier Heights, a low-income community.

So of the four vaccination sites that were in operation for most of the winter, spring, and summer, two of those were on the west side – and in Leake’s district.

Terry: So those are the four main vaccination sites. But didn’t the county also have other small events, where the health department brought the vaccines to churches and schools and places like that?

Harrison: The health department did do that. The county sent me an Excel spreadsheet with 310 vaccination events that had an address.

There were 20 events in all of north Mecklenburg County from January to August.

And we looked at the four ZIP codes that more or less incorporates Leake’s County Commission District 2.

The county had 70 vaccination events in those areas from January to August. They were at places like Hoskins Avenue Baptist Church and the Southview Recreation Center.

That’s more than three times as many vaccination events as were held in north Mecklenburg.

The heart of Charlotte’s west side is ZIP code 28208 – which covers neighborhoods along Freedom Drive, Wilkinson Boulevard, and West Boulevard. There have been 26 vaccination events there, which is still more than all of Davidson, Huntersville and Cornelius combined.

And here is another thing to consider: When the county had them in low-income areas they didn’t widely advertise them to the general public. They wanted to make sure that people who needed them go them.

I talked to the deputy health director Raynard Washington about that in February.

Washington: We don’t publicize them broadly. 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.

Harrison: So the county was bringing clinics to Leake’s district, and trying to only let people who live there know.

Terry: Commissioner Leake used the word “started” in her statement. If we go back in time to the winter, does that show any disparities?

Harrison: No, it really doesn’t. From January to March, there were 20 vaccination events in those four ZIP codes that were in or close to Commissioner Leake’s district. And there was also the mass vaccination site at the health department and MEDIC.

And that’s still more than in north Mecklenburg, where there were 12 vaccination sites from January to March.

And while Leake talked about the county starting with vaccination events in Cornelius, the town has had only two vaccination events – one for the first shot, and one for the second dose – and that didn’t happen until May, once vaccines started to become pretty available to anyone who wanted one.

Terry: So we’ve compared the west side to north Mecklenburg. But are there disparities in other parts of the county, like, say south Charlotte?

Harrison: There really aren’t. The wealthiest ZIP code in the county is 28207 – that’s Myers Park and Eastover. The county held one vaccination event there for all of 2021.

And then if you go to the southern part of the county, which is ZIP code 28277 — that’s Ballantyne, Piper Glen, Blakeney, all very wealthy — the county hasn’t held a single vaccination event there.

And of course, that hasn’t been a problem. They have some of the county’s highest vaccination rates overall.

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