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Racial disparity persists in Wisconsin vaccine distribution, even as vaccine hesitancy decreases

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Nearly 1.7 million people in Wisconsin have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but there continues to be inequality in exactly who is getting the shot.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services reports nearly 28 percent of white people in Wisconsin have received at least one vaccine dose. But that drops to just over 11 percent for Black Wisconsinites.

"Wisconsin is doing really well in terms of the proportion of our population that is receiving vaccines," Tiffany Green, an assistant professor in UW-Madison's Department of Population Health Sciences and at the School of Medicine and Public Health, said. "Unfortunately, we do see disparities in who is getting the vaccine."

When the vaccine rollout started, there was some concern about potential racial disparities due to vaccine hesitancy in the Black community. However, Green said that's not what's causing the current disparity.

"The disparities that existed before COVID are just being highlighted and heightened in the face of COVID," she said. "It's really important that we move away from this idea that vaccine hesitancy as the primary driver of disparities in vaccine uptake. ... What are the structural barriers to vaccines that make it difficult for some groups to get vaccinated?"

She said those barriers can include less flexible work schedules that don't allow for someone to take off for a last-minute vaccine appointment or difficulty accessing transportation.

"There's American Community Survey data that demonstrates that Black Wisconsinites are more likely to live in households without access to a car," she said. "That makes it difficult to drive to Baraboo to get a vaccine when we can't get them in Madison."

New data from an NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist survey supports Green's idea. It found Black Americans are actually less likely than white Americans to not get a vaccine once they're eligible.

Declining hesitancy, growing frustration in Madison

That national trend is playing out in Madison, too.

Jason Boatright, Erin Hall and Aaron Perry spoke with 27 News in February about their work at increasing confidence in the vaccine in the Black community.

They say in the month and a half since, most of their customers' fear about the vaccine has disappeared.

"Every client I've talked to now is like, 'I'm willing to take it. I'm ready to take it. I wish they let me get on the list and take it,'" Jason Boatright, the owner of B. Right Barber and Beauty, said.

Hall said he's seeing a similar trend at his barbershop, Resilient Hair Design.

"A lot of people are definitely interested," he said. "In fact, I have several clients that have already been inoculated and are looking forward to their second vaccination."

But even as some of his clients have been able to get vaccinated, many more are left still searching for appointments.

"We cannot seem to access it," Aaron Perry, the founder of Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association, said. "We've guided them to several of the Walgreens [and] other pharmacies, but they just don't have the appointments that are available at this time."

Hall said it took him several weeks to be able to make an appointment. He's set to get his first shot on Monday, but there's a catch. He has to drive to Mauston for the appointment.

"I'll be traveling an hour or so to get my shot," he said.

Immediately, Boatright chimed in.

"Everybody don't have access to travel that far, too," he said. "Most people can't do that."

Perry said improving equitable vaccine access is imperative if Wisconsin wants to move on from COVID-19.

"That is going to be an area that we really have to correct because we don't want our men to just give up on the process," he said."

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Caroline Dade

Weekend Evening Anchor/Reporter, 27 News

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