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As Vilma Leake asked if COVID vaccine rollout is 'plan to get rid of us,' Mecklenburg County officials were silent

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At the Mecklenburg County Commissioners meeting Wednesday night, Commissioner Vilma Leake criticized the local rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine and questioned whether public health officials are part of a plan to kill Black people.

“Is this a part of the plan to get rid of us?” Leake said when it was her turn to address county health director Gibbie Harris, who was at the meeting to give an update on COVID-19. “We keep hearing that. … That’s what’s being whispered. So I’m asking that question.”

County officials, including Harris, were silent.

“At that point in time, I didn’t feel like it was appropriate (to give a) response. I think those were statements she was making,” Harris said in a follow-up interview with WFAE Thursday.

Harris added: “It’s inappropriate sometimes for me as a staff person to appear to be arguing with a board member. And I don’t want to do that. It’s inappropriate for me to do that. And I think I always follow up to make sure she has the most up-to-date information.”

Commissioners Pat Cotham and Leigh Altman declined to comment on what Leake said.

“I empathize with the frustration around the historic and overwhelming uphill battle faced by the Black and brown community, and still we must convey the facts without conflating the issues,” Commissioner Susan Rodriguez-McDowell said in an emailed statement.

Leake said in a follow-up interview on Thursday that she meant to question the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Mecklenburg County. Leake has repeatedly said that the county health department first made vaccines available in wealthier, whiter areas like Cornelius and Huntersville rather than places with higher Black populations like west Charlotte.

Leake’s assertions are not accurate, according to a recent WFAE fact check. The county set up vaccination sites early on at Medic’s headquarters and on Beatties Ford Road — both in west Charlotte.

There are racial disparities in vaccination rates. In Mecklenburg County, 43% of Black people have received at least one vaccine dose compared with 53% of white people.

In a follow-up interview Thursday, Leake did not clarify what she meant by “plan to kill us,” though she did mention that some people in the Black community have questioned the COVID-19 vaccine based on the medical community’s historical mistreatment of people of color.

“There are some people who think that. That’s not what I implied last night and that’s not what I meant,” Leake said.

Leake has been a strong public advocate for vaccines. She appeared in a video encouraging North Carolinians to get a shot produced by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

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