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Milwaukee leaders address equity concerns highlighted in new COVID-19 vaccine data

Posted at 10:15 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 23:16:01-05

MILWAUKEE — State and local leaders are working to address concerns about equitable vaccine distribution after new data shows a gap in percentages among race and ethnicity groups.

Data from the Department of Health Services shows 10.4 percent of white residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 2.9 percent of African American residents. Data shows 4.9 percent of Asian American residents and 7.3 percent of American Indian residents have gotten at least one dose.

The state data shows in Milwaukee County, 8.7 percent of white residents have gotten at least one dose, compared to 2.7 percent of African American residents.

"When you think about the disparities as it relates to white versus Black and Hispanics getting access to this vaccine, it's pretty disturbing," said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. "And we've constantly talked about this."

Cherise Easley has been helping senior citizens within African American communities get vaccinated. When she saw the state's data on Thursday, she said she wasn't surprised.

She says lack of access continues to hinder communities of color from getting their doses.

"The amount of time, and calling, and going on this website, and trying to find where we could get vaccinated, it was so hard," Easley said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett says Milwaukee County ranks 64th out of Wisconsin's 72 counties when it comes to the percentage of those who have gotten the first dose.

"Here we are coming off a year where the cries have been for equity and racial justice, and I think that we are being tested in real-time as to whether we're responding to that," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "And we simply cannot allow the county, that is near the bottom of the list in terms of health, to be near the bottom in terms of the number of vaccines we get per person - that is simply not acceptable."

Officials point to a few reasons for the imbalance. They say a portion of health workers live outside Milwaukee the city and the county. They also say the groups of people eligible for the vaccine are not as diverse as the state population as a whole.

Bottom line, officials say they need more vaccines, as demand for it continues to far outpace supply.

Still, Easley said the vaccine needs to reach the hardest-hit communities.

"We are losing people every day, and it is my hope and my belief that if we continue to get the word out, and we continue to work together, the distribution of the vaccine will match the distribution of how Covid-19 has hit," Easley said.

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