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At a Baltimore senior complex, a COVID vaccine clinic imbues sense of relief amid discussions of racial gap

In the 1960s and ’70s, they called him “Dancing Harry.”

A fixture at Baltimore Bullets and then New York Knicks basketball games, Edward Marvin Cooper was a fan well-known for his moves, his costumes and the hexes he cast on whatever opponents dared set foot in the Baltimore Civic Center or Madison Square Garden.

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Cooper, 77, said he doesn’t dance quite like that anymore, but he was celebrating Sunday nonetheless.

Cooper received his second shot of the coronavirus vaccine at his senior living facility in the Park Circle area of Northwest Baltimore on Sunday, along with dozens of others.

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“Everyone wants to take this off,” said Cooper, motioning toward his Knicks-themed face mask. “That’s my hope.”

Cooper was one of 76 MonteVerde Apartments residents who got their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this weekend. About 55 more got their first doses during the clinic, which was set up through a partnership with CVS Pharmacy.

Edward Marvin Cooper, 77, a New York Knicks and Baltimore Bullets super fan known as "Dancing Harry," gives a thumbs up after receiving his second vaccine shot for COVID-19 at MonteVerde, a senior-living complex in Park Circle.
Edward Marvin Cooper, 77, a New York Knicks and Baltimore Bullets super fan known as "Dancing Harry," gives a thumbs up after receiving his second vaccine shot for COVID-19 at MonteVerde, a senior-living complex in Park Circle. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

There are more than 300 apartments at MonteVerde, right off Park Heights Avenue, specifically for older adults and people with disabilities.

“This is a population that really needs the vaccine and [has] limited transportation options,” said Mary Claire Davis, director of AHC Greater Baltimore, which manages the property.

For them, getting to a pharmacy, hospital or mass vaccination site could mean a bus trip, or asking a friend or family member for a ride. Thankfully, all they needed to do Sunday was walk downstairs.

The clinic was set up with the help of resident services employees like Latrice Goode, who hustled around the building’s multipurpose room Sunday, helping seniors get the paperwork they needed for their shots.

The room was filled with artwork residents had made during a Black History Month celebration in 2020 — pre-COVID times — Goode said. The colorful paintings and collages, bearing messages of peace and love, have now seen their second Black History Month. And they stood watch Sunday as MonteVerde residents, many of them people of color, got their inoculations, shielding them from a virus that has particularly hurt communities of color.

In Maryland, about 34% of coronavirus deaths have been Black residents. Maryland’s population, meanwhile, is about 31% Black, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Still, Black Marylanders are receiving, on average, fewer shots than their white counterparts. They’ve gotten about 17% of the doses doled out so far (for which race data is available), a statistic that has community leaders and lawmakers worried that the vaccination effort isn’t reaching all state residents equally.

The disparity persists in majority-Black Baltimore City, where about 6% of Black residents have gotten at least one shot, compared with 16% of white residents.

Experts said it’s possible that distrust of the medical community among people of color is playing a role, but some residents have faced barriers getting sought-after vaccine appointments through the state’s system. Experts say holding more vaccine clinics at accessible locations, like residential facilities and locations easily reached via mass transit, could help address the disparity.

There are two mass vaccination sites in the city, but those accept patients from across the state. When asked Feb. 25 if he’d consider setting aside a certain percentage of appointments for Baltimoreans at M&T Bank, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Baltimore was already getting more doses than it was “entitled to.”

Clorine Lewis, a 78-year-old MonteVerde resident who is Black, said she was wary about the vaccine at first.

“After I thought about it and everything, I said it would be best if I did because you never know just what it could be, and anything could help your body,” Lewis said.

Thomas Walker Jr., 62, who lives in the building, and often volunteers to help other residents, said he’s heard plenty of reservations from his neighbors. He said some look to documented medical abuses affecting the Black community, such as the Tuskegee syphilis study, in which hundreds of rural Black men in Alabama with syphilis were observed between 1932 and 1972, with investigators often refusing to tell the patients their diagnoses or refusing to treat them for the disease. Some of his neighbors, he said, worried that such abuses could be repeating themselves.

“A lot of people got it in their mind that the government is trying to fool us,” said Walker, who is Black.

Walker got his second dose of the vaccine Sunday, and said he’s excited for an eventual return to church services, since he sings in the choir.

“That’s what I really miss because I love singing,” Walker said. “And then my phone stopped working, so now I got to call my cousin and his wife to hook onto them to even go to church.”

Getting vaccinated comes with other perks, too, he said.

“The grandkids and the children won’t be bugging me [about getting the vaccine] so much,” Walker said.

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