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Meck Co. health director stresses importance of vaccine equity in rollout for children

As kids roll up their sleeves to get a COVID vaccine, the county health department is taking what they've learned and trying to make shots accessible for all.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Mecklenburg County's top health official stressed the department's efforts to make the vaccines accessible to children in an equitable way just days after a county leader asked her if the county was taking part in a plan to kill black people. 

Throughout the pandemic, and the health industry's response to it, there have been several lessons learned. 

Throughout the response, Mecklenburg County has had a disproportionate amount of black residents not get the vaccine compared to other races in the county. 

The county's health department has pivoted in many ways and they've come up with different ideas to better serve underserved communities. 

Harris said their equitable efforts will continue as they begin giving vaccines to children. 

"We've got -- it's either 7 or 9 sites this weekend all over the county to make sure that people have access," Harris said. 

It comes the same week as Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake criticized how the vaccine rollout went for adults, asking at Wednesday's county board meeting if county health was taking part in a plan to kill black people.  

"In the very beginning, we were fighting to get the medication to the weakest of the weak, and that was the black folk," Leake said as she was speaking to Harris at the meeting.

"Is this a part of the plan - to get rid of us?" Leake later asked. "So in 10 years, how many of us will still be here?"

Harris didn't say a word in a response during the meeting. 

"It wasn't appropriate at the time," Harris said in an interview with WCNC Charlotte on Friday. 

As of Friday, 43% of the African American population in Mecklenburg County has received at least one shot, lower than any other race, according to county data.

"We know that there are disparities in our community in terms of access to care," Harris said. 

It's why clinics have been up and running for months in historically black communities in Mecklenburg County. Healthcare workers have even made home visits to give vaccines to people. Members of ActionNC have also gone door to door, educating people about the benefits of the vaccines.  

"Do we still have work to do? Absolutely," Harris admitted. 

As shots become available for kids, Harris said equity is top of mind.

Her crews will start new canvassing as they explain the benefits of the vaccine for kids to parents.

However, Harris acknowledges, their efforts can only go so far.  

"I will say, we can make it available, we can't make people take it," she said.

Contact Hunter Sáenz at hsaenz@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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