Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- South Carolina residents over 70 can now get the COVID vaccine.
As thousands register for an appointment, there's an extra nudge from medical professionals aimed at a critical population: Communities of color.
Recent data shows COVID-19 infection rates are higher among the Black and Hispanic populations in many portions of South Carolina.
Dr. Marvella Ford, a Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and Associate Director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities at the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, is urging people of color to get vaccinated.
"Because of the chronic conditions that are so prevalent in our communities like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other illnesses, our communities are very vulnerable," said Ford. "Latinx communities were in poor health before the pandemic began."
For those reluctant, Ford points to the success of clinical trials, in which more than 10,000 people of color participated with no adverse effects.
"We now have consent forms. We now have data and safety monitoring committees. We now have multiple levels of oversight of any study or clinical trial that's being done," said Ford.
Clinical trials aside, many remain uneasy about getting the vaccine.
The reasons why were discussed in a virtual meeting with the Columbia branch of the NAACP.
"There's a trust issue that harbors back historically from the Tuskegee incident. Then there's the access issue to make certain the vaccine becomes accessible to the people who are in areas that are hard to get to," said State Representative, Wendy Brawley, who represents portions of Richland and Sumter counties. "There is some concern about that. Being the last to get the vaccine when our folks are the first to die."
Brawley believes more people of color in South Carolina would get the vaccine from trusted sources, like distribution centers set up at places of worship.
Doctors say a game changer for rural communities will be getting the vaccine to retail pharmacies.
It's a resource that will benefit residents like Idella Felder of St. Matthews, who waited three hours on the phone Wednesday morning and couldn't get an appointment.
"Especially when you've got a certain length of time to get it before the next set comes in. Then they say if you don't get it during the time when you're supposed to get it, you've got to go to the back of the line," said Felder. "Wherever they send me, that's where I'll go...in between Orangeburg and St. Matthews."
In a video titled "Love Letter to Black America, from America's Black Doctors and Nurses", by the Black Coalition Against COVID-19, presidents of colleges and universities across the nation endorse the message to get more people of color vaccinated.
"We can't let history hold us back," said Ford.
The COVID-19 vaccine is available to everyone who qualifies, regardless of immigration status or whether you're a resident of South Carolina.
To learn how to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated, click here.
If you know someone in our community who only speaks Spanish, we translated vaccine appointment instructions here.