City leaders push for COVID vaccine access in South Richmond: 'That river is a great dividing line'

Posted at 11:40 PM, Feb 03, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond City Council members who represent districts covering the city's south side called on state and local health leaders to take steps to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccine for their residents and to provide for more transparency tracking who has gotten the vaccine so far and who are left waiting.

"That river is a great dividing line and it creates the whole notion of two Richmonds," 9th District Councilmember Mike Jones said outside of the Southside Community Center on Wednesday. "There needs to be more transparency on who is getting the vaccine and a clear plan to how we are going to get our vulnerable populations covered."

Jones was joined by 8th District Councilmember Reva Trammell and Council Vice-President/6th District Councilmember Ellen Robertson.

"We're not confident that at those who have highest risk and are the highest carriers are being addressed in the way that it needs to be addressed," added Robertson.

On the subject of transparency, the trio said they wanted more data on the race and ethnicity of those who have received the vaccine.

"I want to see by race. We've been able to track the number of African Americans, the Latinx community that have contracted COVID-19 and have died from it and so we know that we lead in that category," said Jones. "I want to see the numbers by race who's getting vaccinated. We talk about equity. That is how equity works in my opinion. The people who have been disproportionately impacted by this -- making sure they get the vaccine."

As of Wednesday, the Virginia Department of Health's COVID-19 vaccination database showed 431,981 of the state's 895,005 administered vaccines were missing data on the recipient's race or ethnicity.

At Governor Ralph Northam's news conference last week, he and other officials spoke of the need to improve the collection of that data point.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver sent a letter to vaccinators on the need to collect it.

A spokesperson for the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts (RHHD) responded to the councilmembers' concerns and told CBS 6 they agree "on the importance of using an equity-based approach to our vaccine distribution efforts."

"Race and ethnicity reporting remains an issue on the local, state, and national levels. Our councilmembers are correct that these data are central to understanding and addressing any disparities in access to the COVID-19 vaccine. RHHD is implementing strategies to help close the race reporting gap—including more education about the importance of reporting race/ethnicity and adding additional volunteers to our clinic flow specifically to enter demographic data. When the same problem presented itself in March and April related to COVID-19 testing data, RHHD worked to improve race and ethnicity reporting so we could accurately track populations accessing testing and testing positive," they added.

The councilmembers also said they were concerned that no vaccination events had taken place on the city's south side.

"We're right here at Southside Community Center. We have access to churches in the area on the south side of celebration church right up on Midlothian Turnpike, we have the space, we have the space. So what's the plan? This has not crept up on us," said Jones.

"Why do they have to go across the river. Why can't they come here?" added Trammell.

In response to that concern, RHHD said it is planning small on-site vaccination events "in partnership with VCU Health, Bon Secours, community centers, and faith communities" for this weekend and would continue as the supply allowed.

"These events are intended to bring access to vaccination to Richmond’s seniors, and Black and Latino communities in the East End, Southside, and Northside. RHHD will also open up a large-scale vaccination site on Richmond’s Southside by March and will continue to assess barriers to accessing vaccines for eligible populations," they added. "Opening up additional vaccination sites and improving data collection are only two aspects of our larger equity framework. Vaccine supply is extremely limited in Virginia and across the country, and equitably distributing the limited doses we have is our number one priority. RHHD remains committed to distributing vaccines with our core values in mind: equity, transparency, safety, efficiency, and community partnership."

An RHHD spokesperson said the locations of this weekend's small events would not be publicly released out of concern people would show up who did not have an appointment. They said they hope to vaccinate around 100 people at each event.

Qualified recipients will be picked through their regular registration process and "relying on community leaders to utilize their relationships to gather folks who may not be reached through our traditional online and phone systems."