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Racial disparities in COVID vaccine distribution not going unnoticed in Buffalo

'The pandemic has really magnified and exposed in many cases the deficiencies in especially Black and Brown communities,' Pastor William Gillison said.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the state and federal government, work to improve their respective vaccine rollouts new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released this week has provided a stark look at the disparity among different racial and ethnic groups.

It's an issue that hasn't gone unnoticed in the City of Buffalo and in Albany.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office announced 35 pop-up vaccination sites, including five in Western New York, which the state said in a news release is part of their "commitment to ensuring fairness and equity in the vaccine distribution process."

The sites are located in many Black, Brown, Latino, and Asian communities.

Why? As reported Monday by the CDC, of the 13 million Americans between December and January 14 who were vaccinated for COVID-19, 60 percent were White non-Hispanic individuals.

Comparatively, only 11.5 percent identified as Latino, 6 percent as Asian Americans, and lastly 5.4 percent Black.

"The pandemic has really magnified and exposed in many cases the deficiencies in especially black and brown communities," said Pastor William Gillison of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Buffalo.

Deficiencies that have existed for years. 

Pastor Gillison said the state's pop-up vaccination sites, such as the one at his church Thursday, are in some part addressing these issues but he believes more needs to be done.

"If there is such thing as a benefit from the pandemic, that is probably one," Pastor Gillison said. "I'm grateful I do see light at the end of the tunnel, but it's a long tunnel."

Some 300 or so already registered individuals will be vaccinated at Mount Olive Baptist Church, he said. That's a step in the right direction, but Pastor Gillison added, there's an even larger list of people, Black, Brown, and Latino Americans still waiting.

"With the pop-ups, they're to develop community-based organizations in churches because people feel comfortable there," Dr. Raul Vazquez of Urban Family Practice said.

Dr. Vazquez has been a key part of the grassroots effort in Buffalo to educate, treat, and now vaccinate people during the pandemic.

His practice is helping administer 350 vaccines to pre-registered people at The Belle Center on Thursday. They are also apart of the state's pop-up operation.

"I think the approach will help, we've given about 32 million vaccines, and the percent that's gone to African-Americans and Latinos has been very small, so I think it's their approach to get out there. We have a limited supply so that's the biggest issue right now," Dr. Vazquez said.

It's sn issue that Pastor Gillis and Dr. Vazquez are both eager to see resolved but realize could carry the same equity issues.

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