Fair vaccinations: MKE Co. working to limit racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccines

Posted at 6:33 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 19:33:16-05

MILWAUKEE — Despite a small increase in vaccines coming to Wisconsin, Milwaukee County officials are working at decreasing an alarming racial disparity in who is receiving it.

“I have not seen the diversity necessary to reflect the population we have here in Milwaukee,” Mayor Tom Barrett said. “It should be a concern to everyone.”

Starting Wednesday at 2 p.m., those who are eligible can register at or call 414-286-6800.

The latest numbers show 60.8 percent of those vaccinated in Milwaukee County so far are white. Only seven percent of vaccinations have gone to African Americans.

Milwaukee County COVID-19 Vaccinations by Race
Early numbers show a vast racial disparity in who is getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Milwaukee County

“I want the vaccine, I just need to know where we can go and how it can be made available to us,” Joyce Tucker said.

Tucker is 76 years old. She also had a tough bout with the coronavirus, impacting her for three months. She doesn’t want to go through that again, so two and a half weeks ago, she started registering online for the vaccine.

Since then, nothing.

“I don’t understand why they don’t have the vaccine accessible to us,” Tucker said. “I have called them and they say they don’t have it yet. I go online and registered and I have not gotten a response as far as access. I got an alert and it said, 'as soon as it becomes available, they will contact us.' No timeline. It is very frustrating.”

Her friend, Linda Meadors, is in the same boat. As a 69-year-old cancer survivor, she too meets the criteria. However, as someone who spent a majority of her life in Milwaukee, she’s very aware of the racial inequities that exist in the city called the worst for African Americans in the country.

She remains optimistic, giving the benefit of the doubt for this situation. But she’s losing her patience.

“There is something going on that’s not right,” Meadors said. “We want to help make it right. What can we do? We have a voice. We will use it as we never have before.”

Meadors says she is contacting Gov. Tony Evers' office to find more information and wants local leaders to be held accountable for a lack of a plan. State and local officials cite a lack of supply as the main issue for administering vaccines. Tuesday, state officials announced an 18-percent increase in vaccine coming this week, which would take it from roughly 70,000 to over 80,000 per week.

Milwaukee County Officials say the disparity is a sign of another possible inequity facing Wisconsin. The Kaiser Family Foundation says African Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the healthcare workforce. This group was first in line to get the vaccine. However, Milwaukee resident Cherise Easley says otherwise.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Easley said.

Easley has spent the last few weeks helping both Tucker, Meadors, her father, grandparents and other elderly African Americans get signed up to get the vaccine. The main issue she sees is with access. Since the first grouping of the general population eligible for the vaccine are those over 65 years old, she fears the technological literacy may be causing an issue.

“It shouldn’t be this hard,” Easley said. “I’m technically savvy personally and I had to go through three different places to help my grandparents and my father. Senior citizens without family or anyone to advocate for them, what happens to them?”

Tucker feels the same way.

“I have some basic knowledge of technology,” Tucker said. “But a majority of African Americans, especially the seniors, they don’t.”

In addition to creating a more streamlined website and having a phone number for people to call to register, state and local officials are also doing outreach efforts in underserved communities. Officials are going to the city’s public housing neighborhoods for sign-ups, providing transportation to vaccination sites where necessary and meeting with faith and local neighborhood leaders to get the word out.

Even though the Wisconsin Center is serving as the primary vaccine location for now, Mayor Barrett hopes to create more hyperlocal vaccination sites at places like churches and community centers.

“We want to make sure we’re bringing vaccines to the people as well,” Barrett said. “But it will depend on supply. The faster we get supply, the faster we get injecting the entire community.”

“Access needs to be made to them as well,” Easley said. “Clinics in neighborhoods, open to senior citizens in the neighborhood and there needs to be a push for it. We need to have transparency.”

Those eligible for the vaccine are encouraged to register Wednesday, Feb. 3, starting at 2:00 p.m. at or call 414-286-6800.

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