COVID-19 vaccinations for Blacks in Kane and DuPage counties are significantly lower than whites, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Tuesday Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker joined an Aurora coalition and VNA Health Care to combat this disparity.
DuPage County resident Janene Marshall-Gatling waited in line for the vaccine with her elderly mother at Aurora’s Cathedral of Grace St. John AME Church. She said they hope to inspire the rest of the family to do the same.
“My mother's getting ready to have a birthday,” she said. “And it's important for us to make sure that we can come together, even a small family gathering of 10 people, and not jeopardize her life or the life of my father -- for us to be able to just fellowship on a Sunday and have a meal together.”
Marshall-Gatling said the Black community should not be fearful and she wants people to realize the vaccination will save their lives.
John E. Burch is the pastor of North Avenue MB Church of Sycamore. He stated that those who don’t trust the vaccine should do their research.
“In the past, there have been historical problems with the medical community and our community,” Burch explained. “But we think we have a handle on that. A number of our own physicians, people that look like us, are actually in there and making sure that it is safe for our people.”
Burch wasn’t signed up to get the vaccine at this event but said he will take it as soon as he can.
Pritzker said he understands the concerns of the Black community. He suggested that people are more likely to get the vaccination if individuals they know are doing the same.
He pointed out that heath care inequities existed way before COVID-19.
“Inequities that I'm committed to eliminating,” the governor assured. “Even if everyone who wants to be vaccinated today were to receive it that wouldn't be enough for us to reach herd immunity. So, it's important that we get the message out to those who are vaccine hesitant.”
He said all three vaccines were 100% effective in trials in stopping hospitalization and death.
Pritzker said that preexisting health conditions in the Black community are accelerating the death rate for the virus. He commends Aurora for recognizing and acting on these disparities.
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin brought together members of Black Vax Aurora, a group working to ensure fair access for the COVID-19 vaccine, and VNA Health Care to plan this first event to fix these inequities.
“That disparity in minority communities is nothing new,” he said. “But now we're dealing with a deadly pandemic. And the Black and Brown and poor communities of America are suffering.”
Theodia Gillespie is the president and CEO of Quad County Urban League. She mentioned the contributing factors for the disproportionate COVID-19 death rate in Black communities. A lack of health insurance, no access to health care services and housing that doesn’t allow social distancing are just a few.
“These are made worse by low wage employment,” Gillespie added. “That doesn't offer work from home options that require interaction with the public and reliance on public transportation. Both of which increase the likelihood of exposure to this disease.”
She said she is taking the vaccine to help reduce fear and doubt.
Many other leaders were there to show their support by getting the vaccine.
Pastor Burch said those who are resistant to getting the vaccine should still follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He is suggesting that they continue to wear their masks, keep their distance and wash their hands.
More than 700 individuals signed up for vaccinations.
Irvin said a similar event for the Latinx community will happen March 19.
- Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.