CLEVELAND — According to the newest vaccination data, one in four Ohioans has at least started the vaccination process, amounting to roughly 3 million people across the state having at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Cuyahoga County specifically, the data has continued to show a disparity between the number of Black residents and other minorities who have been vaccinated compared to their white counterparts.
Vaccination demographic data from the Ohio Department of Health shows nearly 320,000 Cuyahoga county residents have started the vaccination process. Nearly 230,000 Caucasians have been vaccinated, which accounts for nearly 30% of the county’s population of white residents. However, only 12.75% of the county’s Black population — or about 48,000 people — have been vaccinated, according to ODH data posted late Wednesday afternoon. Even as other community groups have seen large increases in total vaccination rates since the Wolstein Center mass vaccination site opened up earlier this month, the number of Black people to be vaccinated has only grown slightly over the past week from 10% to 12.75%.
Yvonka Hall, the executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, said the data highlights disparities, including transportation and internet access, that remain prevalent in minority communities.
“All of these things have to come into play when we talk about access,” Hall said. “We have to look at every single iota.”
When local and state officials announced the selection of the Wolstein Center as the mass vaccination site, many highlighted its proximity to the population center, including its proximity to medically underserved and economically challenged communities. Officials also highlighted its proximity to mass transportation and highways as being beneficial for increasing access to vaccinations. Despite receiving rave reviews for its efficiency, according to the county-wide data, the Wolstein mass vaccination site hasn’t necessarily translated to large increases in vaccination rates in minority communities.
News 5 has requested vaccination demographics data specific to the Wolstein Center vaccination site. As of Wednesday evening, ODH was still working to provide that data.
"This system is a well-oiled machine by all standards. But when we talk about proficiency, proficiency is how it impacts people,” Hall said. “When we talk about proficiencies, that’s when the devil is in the details. COVID, if it was a light to be shone, it shone on everything that African Americans have been screaming about for years but we didn’t have to do the screaming. COVID did the screaming for us. With the whole vaccination rollout, if you thought that was a light on the glaring inequalities, then the vaccination rollout should show a glaring inequity in terms of access.”
Local residents Marla Zwinggi and Stacey Bane, better known as the Vaccine Queens, have been on the forefront of the citizen-led effort to broaden the reach of the vaccination process by helping the elderly and underserved communities. Zwinggi has seen first-hand the challenges that some folks have faced.
“It doesn’t just have to be access to a vaccination. It’s access to anything. I think we live under this false pretense that everyone has a computer, everyone has a smartphone, everyone has a cell phone,” Zwinggi said. “That is not the case.”
City and county leaders have tried to put down infrastructure to get people to the vaccination site by arranging free rides and subsidized rideshare trips that have been made available for people through 211. However, Hall said even more outreach is needed and, perhaps, a smaller mass vaccination clinic in some of the city’s distressed neighborhoods.
"Whether it's changing who is at the table, adding people to the table or creating a new table, something needs to be done to make sure the voice of the voiceless is heard,” Hall said. “Right now, with the numbers, it tells us that the only people whose voices are being heard are those with access.”
Ohio Department of Health: 3 - Partially complied with information requests
The Ohio Department of Health did provide some vaccination data in a timely fashion, but not the specific demographic data that was requested.