City of Huntsville responds to criticism of Mayor Battle, local pastors receiving COVID-19 vaccine

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The mayor of Huntsville tried to take on the issue of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy head-on, specifically in the black community, but the gesture was swiftly met with backlash from the public.

Wednesday afternoon, the mayor, several local prominent Black pastors, and the president of Oakwood university received the COVID-19 vaccine. Many black Americans trace their distrust of vaccines to a history of mistreatment by the country’s medical establishment, including the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

“I believe it’s important for us to be able to by example say OK I understand the history, but I also understand the threats in our environment, and because of those threats I’m going to take the vaccine,” said Leslie Pollard, president of Oakwood University.

Many people in the community expressed negative reactions towards the event, citing the Alabama Department of Public Health’s vaccine roll-out plan, which is still in Phase 1A, allowing the vaccine for critical healthcare workforce, and residents of long-term care facilities.

The City of Huntsville issued a response on social media stating,

“We understand and respect the frustration from our community in being able to get the vaccine. We are glad to hear many of you plan to do so! Today’s event was geared toward those who don’t want to take the vaccine. This effort came from feedback in mid-December from African American pastors who relayed congregational concerns over the safety of the vaccine. Many City of Huntsville employees also expressed concern in taking the shot. Today’s media event was a collaboration between the Department of Public Health and the Huntsville-area COVID-19 Leadership Team to demonstrate to the public, and particularly our minority community, that the vaccine is safe. The team waited until after healthcare and frontline personnel were vaccinated and the state was well into phase 1B for essential workers before scheduling today’s shot. It is the hope of the Madison County Health Department and the Huntsville-Area COVID-19 Leadership Team that by seeing community leaders take the vaccine, it will inspire confidence in others to sign up for the shot so that we can all begin the new normal and keep each other safe and healthy.”

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health‘s website, Alabama is in Phase 1A of the rollout, but some people in Phase 1B could be vaccinated as supply allows.

Phase 1B includes essential workers at highest risk for work-related exposure and persons in identified age groups at risk for COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality and people who work or live in congregate settings, including but not limited to homeless shelters and group homes.

On January 18, Alabama began providing COVID-19 vaccinations for people 75 years or older, first responders, including law enforcement and firefighters, statewide by appointment.

ADPH says some counties have been able to intermittently vaccinate persons age 75 years and older as supply allows.