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Combatting disproportionate COVID-19 vaccine access in Kentucky

Black people make up 8.5% of the population in Kentucky. But they represent only 4.6% of total vaccines given, according to state health data.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Even as more people are getting vaccinated, there are some still being left behind. 

Marilyn Payton said it was difficult for her to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. The 72-year-old, her 96-year-old mother, and husband got their second round of shots last month at a local church.

“I wanted to get everyone with their shot as soon as possible," said Payton.

A friend told her Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville was taking appointments. 

“I was relieved," Payton said.

Before that, she said she had been searching for an appointment for over a month. It seemed impossible to find one.

“I couldn’t get good access to the information and how to go, where to go," she said.

Technology, she said, isn’t her strength. And she’s not alone.

RELATED: Kentucky's older population still facing challenges in getting vaccinated

“Older people don’t have computers and don’t have iPhones," she said. 

And she said in her neighborhood of Okolona, availability was limited.

“Do you think certain communities have disproportionate access to the COVID vaccine?” asked FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan.

“Yes, I do," she said. 

Health data shows there’s truth to that. Black people make up 8.5% of the population in Kentucky. But they represent only 4.6% of total vaccines given, according to state health data.

“Initially there were a lot of barriers," said Mark Burns, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Louisville.

Burns said Black and brown communities have faced higher barriers with getting vaccinated. 

“There were communication barriers, transportation barriers," he said, adding vaccine hesitancy has also been an obstacle

“And then you ran into vaccine supply issues," he said. 

He said lack of access to technology, especially for older people, intensified the problem. But new vaccination sites, like the one that opened at Whitney M. Young Elementary in west Louisville, are aiming to make the COVID-19 vaccine more accessible. 

“I think it’s wonderful. It’s going to take a concerted effort because we need to get everyone vaccinated," Burns said. 

If you’re in Kentucky, you can get help scheduling an appointment when doses are available by calling this hotline: 855-598-2246. If you’re in Indiana, call 866-211-9966. 

►Contact reporter Paula Vasan at pvasan@whas11.com on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

►Have a story tip? Contact the FOCUS Investigative team at FOCUS@whas11.com