Panel addresses racial disparities in Berrien County's vaccine rollout

NOW: Panel addresses racial disparities in Berrien County’s vaccine rollout

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Spectrum Health Lakeland hosted a panel to address racial disparities throughout the pandemic as Michigan moves toward vaccinating some of the general public.

Local doctors, pastors and community activists were part of a conversation about the vaccine rollout to communities like Benton Harbor, where access to resources that promote better health are often lacking.

“We’re all taking responsibility to fix these disparities and to me, rolling out COVID-19 vaccines and making sure our communities have access is that opportunity to right some wrongs,” said Talawnda Bragg, MD, Internal Medicine Hospitalist & Program Director at Spectrum Health.

With those ages 65 and up now eligible for vaccination, the concern is that disparities that have plagued these minority communities in the past will continue to make access to healthcare a challenge.

“This community was already in a public health crisis long before COVID-19 showed up, the mortality rates are alarming – hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular issues – these are all very high in that community,” said Pastor Jaime Cervantes with First Church of God in the Benton Heights neighborhood.

These leaders also discussed trying to build trust in Benton Harbor as doubt in the vaccine process is causing some to rule it out.

“The hesitancy comes from logistics, not knowing how or where to go, having transportation a lot of times is a negative aspect and maybe we can get some nurses to even come into homes once people have registered just to think of other ways of reaching out,” said Maurice Burton, a retired Michigan State Trooper.

Coming in to Benton Harbor, rather than asking residents to travel to them, is Lakeland’s strategy, but the help they need is from those living in these neighborhoods.

“There are so many resources in the black, brown, Spanish speaking communities who need to be at the table, and our strategy is more going where people are as opposed to asking them always to come to us, and that isn’t just physically but also in the processes,” said Lynn Todman, PhD, Vice-President of Health Equity at Spectrum Health Lakeland.

To register to be vaccinated through Spectrum Health, you can either do so online or by calling 800-815-5485.

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