CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK)—Health officials are strongly encouraging everyone to get vaccinated as COVID-19 cases increase.  However, there’s still a lot of African Americans who refuse to get the vaccine.

Many African Americans across the state say they simply don’t trust the government and that health leaders haven’t taken their health concerns seriously for years.  

Look at the testing and vaccination sites at both West Virginia Health Right and at Grace Bible Church on Charleston’s West Side – pretty much a ghost town.  

“Many African Americans in the state do not feel like the government really cares about them. The government is irresponsible towards issues affecting African Americans,” Matthew Watts, Pastor of Grace Bible Church said.

Watts says the west side is one of the unhealthiest places to live in the United States and it’s been documented. He’s been trying to bring it to the attention of West Virginia Health leaders.  

“We recommended, a group of African Americans in the state, and we asked Dr. Clay Marsh to encourage the administration to create an African American coronavirus task force comprised of the top African American health, public health and middle health professionals around the state, and we made it clear why they should do that to explain to them the challenges,” Watts said.

Instead, according to Watts, not a single black health professional sits on the West Virginia COVID-19 task force.  

“It’s disappointing, it’s hurtful and it’s frustrating that even in the midst of a pandemic, no one takes, not enough people take seriously black lives in West Virginia and now we‘re scurrying around trying to get people to take the vaccine,” Watts said

According to the DHHR, only 3.6% of African Americans in the state have been vaccinated, which is very low compared to whites, which are more than 88% vaccinated.

“Now we have a situation where you need trust, I can’t think of a single Caucasian person that has enough that can change the way black people feel, Watts said. 

Health Right West Side has put its other practices on hold to help with the COVID-19 surge. Family Nurse Practitioner Anitra Ellis says a lot of people of color just don’t know what to believe when it comes to getting vaccinated.  

“I feel like there’s a lot of fear related to the vaccinations and things of the unknown, long-term side effects of the vaccination which we don’t know a lot on right now, but typically vaccinations long-term are safe,” Dr. Ellis said.

Dr. Ellis says she encourages people to talk to others who have gotten the vaccine and ask questions. Health Right is offering testing and vaccinations every day from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.