Black Kansans have received the COVID-19 vaccine at about half the rate of white Kansans.
Now, as the vaccine rollout continues, there’s been a growing effort to close that gap.
The Wichita Black Nurses Association and Black churches are partnering with the Sedgwick County Health Department to make sure the vaccines reach communities of color. So far, more than 400 people have received their first shots through the partnership, including at St. James Missionary Baptist Church.
On a recent afternoon, members of the Wichita Black Nurses Association are preparing to administer Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at St. James Missionary Baptist Church near 13th and Ash in central Wichita. Dozens of seniors check in one by one for the shot. Firefighters assist those who need help getting from their car into the church.
Brenda Davis is with the association. Wearing her blue rubber gloves, she gently pushes up the sleeve on Rev. Willard Dallas’ right arm.
“OK, Reverend Dallas, going to feel a stick here,” she tells him as she administers the shot. “That’s not so bad, huh?”
As a religious leader, Davis says he knew he had to make getting the vaccine a priority.
“Just to set a good example and let people know not to be afraid to do it,” he said.
Even though some people are hesitant, a growing number are willing to get vaccinated. Having access to get it is another concern.
Data analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Black and Hispanic people receive smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their share of COVID-19 cases and deaths related to the disease.
Black health providers are seeking out ways to bring the vaccine to communities of color. Margaret Thompson, also a member of Wichita’s Black Nurses Organization, helped organize the new effort.
“It’s important to me because I'm looking at Black and Brown people with the disparity, the vulnerability, the non-access to get to these places. That is what's held so many Black and Brown people up for getting this vaccine,” she said.
“It’s so important to me because we get this COVID-19 and we die the quickest and we become the sickest.”
Broderick Huggins, pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church, says he lost five close friends to COVID-19 last year, including Kansas gospel musician Brandon McCray.
“It became almost a domino effect in many of the preacher circles,” Huggins said. “It almost killed me. It almost killed me emotionally.”
Huggins says the impact of the virus is one reason he decided to host a vaccine clinic at St. James.
“They have to become comfortable with the people that they know, love and have shown credibility and consistency over a period of time,” he said. “That’s why I thought it was so important that I get the shot and that we make it available to the people of our community.”
Marilyn Shaw met up at up with her mother and sister at the church to get their shots. In a few weeks, they’ll each get their second dose.
Shaw says she thinks everyone should get vaccinated.
“Because we don't want you to be susceptible to getting COVID because I tell you, I've lost a lot of friends,” she said. “I've lost at least six friends in one week, which was so devastating.”
Working in a nursing home, Brenda Davis with the Wichita Black Nurses Association says she’s seen the effects of COVID-19 firsthand.
“The long-term effects of COVID can be very debilitating,” she said. “They call them long haulers and you can be sick for a long, long time, so you need to get a vaccine so you can prevent becoming infected.”
The county operates a mass vaccine clinic at the former central library downtown, but Davis says offering clinics in the community gives people more access.
“They need to see that Black nurses believe in the vaccine and that we give the vaccine, and that the vaccine is safe and effective,” she said. “We need to bring the vaccine to them that takes away all the barriers, them not knowing where to go.
“They can come to their own community, to their own church and hopefully we get much better compliance.”
Sedgwick County Health Director Adrienne Byrne says the county will continue offering vaccinations throughout the county.
“We have a couple other churches in the Black community, but we are in the process of looking at Hispanic communities and then just others around the county,” Byrne said. “We already know where the communities and zip codes that are vulnerable are. “
Byrne says the county is already looking at giving pharmacies in vulnerable communities more vaccine.
“We're weighing those more heavily … far as getting them more vaccine and looking at other community centers and churches that we can go into to make sure that we get everybody in the community vaccinated,” she said.
One of those churches is Rev. Willard Dallas’. A vaccine clinic is scheduled at Greater St. Mary’s Baptist church for April 11; the church is currently taking appointment.
“I just want to let people know we're going to get through this,” Dallas said.