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Town Hall meeting explores disconnect between health care and African American community

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo
The first COVID-19 vaccine in New York State was administered in December 2020 to an African American nurse.

On a day when state pop-up COVID vaccination clinics occurred on Buffalo’s West Side and East Side, key issues of healthcare in the city were online. It was the latest of a series of virtual Town Hall meetings, this time with the overall focus on vaccinations in the minority community.

Only around 6% of the Black community have received vaccinations so far, while there have been a disportionately high number of cases and deaths.

Leaders in Buffalo’s Black community are studying community resistance to the COVID vaccination because of a national history of medical misuse of African Americans. A recent study from REACH Buffalo: The Ferry Street Health and Wellness Project found a third of those surveyed didn’t want to take the more routine flu shot either.

Project Director Stan Martin said concern about the healthcare system is openly expressed.

"It may not necessarily be the science, but the scientists. It may not be the data, but it’s the doctor who’s the physician and that is historical," Martin said, "and how do we repair those relationships and it’s not necessarily up to us to do that."

Martin said a key part of what his agency is doing right now is actually listening to people about health issues, health care and the COVID vaccines.

Dr. Willie Underwood said it isn’t even known if one COVID bout prevents another.

"It was initially thought that if you were re-infected that you may not be as sick as you were the first time or you may not get sick because you have an immune response," he said. "But there are people who have gotten a second infection and were sicker the second time than they were the first time and who have even died."

Pastor George Nicholas said vaccine has to be supplied to community health centers.

"The providers get first dibs at getting them," Nicholas said, "because it would be somewhat problematic if the drugstores -- that aren’t in our community -- and the supermarkets -- which aren’t in our community -- if they have the vaccines, because that’s going to make it difficult for our people to get it."

The Town Hall meeting was sponsored by the Common Council, Healthcare Education Project and the Buffalo Center for Health Equity. The next in the series will be held Feb. 18.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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