CommunityCoronavirusCovid-19Hamil R. Harris

Baltimore Vaccine Distribution Sparks Old Racial Concerns

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott have been exchanging political punches over the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program.

The political drama began last week when Scott asked the governor to reserve doses at the two state-run mass sites in Baltimore for city residents. But the facilities are being used by residents from across the state.

Hogan said in a Feb. 26 tweet that 1,226,447 total doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered and that was 89 percent of all first doses received from the federal government. He went on to say that it was about “30,000 vaccines a day.”

Thousands of residents have been pouring into M&T Stadium to get shots, but according to Scott, many of the people in line are not city residents. But only 11.1 percent of those living in Baltimore have received a preliminary immunization, while about 6.4 percent have received both doses required to protect against severe illness.

Prince George’s County, like Baltimore’s population, is predominantly Black. But statewide, white residents have received roughly four times as many vaccine doses as Black people.

“Week after week, the governor has refused to share where the state is allocating doses in Baltimore City,” Scott said in a statement. “The governor has refused to set up an equitable model for statewide vaccination registrations.”

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, called Hogan’s statement “baffling” considering that “there’s a gap in city residents getting vaccinated.”

Sharfstein said the state might need to reconsider how it keeps its doses.

While some say the racial disparity in getting vaccines is due to fear by some African Americans that they may be used as human guinea pigs, famed civil rights lawyer Fred Gray said comparing the COVID-19 drama to the Tuskegee experiment in which Black male syphilis carriers were maltreated is really comparing “apples and oranges.”

Gray spoke during a taped Black History Month program at the Central Church of Christ in Baltimore and it came up after Maria Lindsey asked him, “Based on your involvement in the Tuskegee syphilis study do you think that the Black community is justified in their apprehension about getting the COVID vaccine?”

“I have been asked that question about 10 or 12 different times,” said Gray, a resident of Tuskegee. “They are different situations altogether. You know what the virus is doing. The virus has killed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world there is no question about that. The vaccine, if you take it, will prevent you from getting this deadly viral disease. The Tuskegee syphilis study was altogether different. It was study of untreated syphilis in the Negro male.”

Perin Tinsley, a Baltimore resident and member of Central Church of Christ, said “I have a ways to go to get the vaccine. People in [their] 80s and above have received their vaccine but for most of us it is a waiting game.”

“I believe that Fred Gray was on point when he said that racism exists in many forms,” Tinsley said. “In terms of syphilis experiments black men were victims of government, and today, people distrust in terms of equity.”

“I am still concerned about the long-term effects of the vaccinations. What is going to happen 10 years from now?” said Kelly Thomas, another resident of Baltimore who is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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