Peter Thomas, 58, of Washington, receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Howard University in February 2021 (Image via AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) Vaccination rates have slowed down.
Peter Thomas, 58, of Washington, receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at Howard University in February 2021 (Image via AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Black North Carolinians account for less than 20% of the vaccinated population. The unvaccinated are at risk from this new, aggressive, fast-spreading strain. 

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is gearing up to be a perfect storm in North Carolina’s Black communities. 

Delta, which wreaked havoc when it surfaced in India this year, is now in all 50 states, including North Carolina. 

Earlier COVID-19 strains already proved disproportionately deadly for Black Americans, due to medical inequities, health care accessibility issues and vaccine reluctance built on years of governmental abuse. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 4 of the state’s COVID deaths have been Black people. 

The Delta variant spreads faster and has more potential for serious complications than the previous versions of COVID-19. It could devastate Black communities, which have a vaccination rate of about half the overall population. However, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have shown to be effective against this newest strain.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important [vaccination] is,” Dr. Marian Jones, director of Student Health Services at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, told Cardinal & Pine. “Even if you’re vaccinated, you can still get it. But it won’t be as severe.”

Jones supports the historically Black university’s policy of mandatory vaccinations for faculty, staff and students who are returning to campus. Her concerns mirror those of federal officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who was in Charlotte Wednesday speaking to healthcare advocates, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who chairs the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.

“I’m worried about Delta especially for people who aren’t vaccinated, and for communities where the uptake of vaccination has been low,” Nunez-Smith told The 19th. “The dynamics of COVID-19 are local. And so it really comes down to the dynamics of one’s community. How many people in one’s community have been vaccinated? The risk is there for these localized surges.”

Masks Make a Comeback

In North Carolina, 56% of adults are partially vaccinated and 53% are fully vaccinated. However, the vaccination rate in North Carolina has slowed dramatically recently, and the numbers tell a different story when racial demographics are taken into account. This time last month, despite making up 23% of the state’s population, Black residents accounted for just 18% of vaccinations

The Delta variant, if given free reign in unprotected populations, could develop worse mutations. Some areas that are experiencing a surge of transmissions, such as Los Angeles County, are bringing back indoor mask recommendations, even for the fully vaccinated. That syncs with guidance from the World Health Organization. Jones, too, wears a mask in public to further reduce her risk. 

“People may think I’m not vaccinated because I’m wearing a mask, but I do because I don’t know if others are,” she said. 

Masking and getting vaccinated may provide the best chance at reducing the risk of transmission for oneself and others. 

Of “those who are contracting COVID-19 and dying, 99% are unvaccinated. So if you ever wanted to hear why you should be vaccinated, don’t be like the 99% who found out the hard way that they should have been,” Becerra said.