Vaccine frustrations from Norfolk civil rights icon: I don’t know what’s wrong with me

COVID-19 Vaccine

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — They are known as the “Norfolk 17” but now only nine remain including 76-year-old Dr. Patricia Turner.

The civil rights icon, mathematician, former nurse, and veteran educator has worked in a private preschool every week since the pandemic began.

(Photo Courtesy: Patricia Turner)


As a teenager, she and 16 other Black students risked their lives just to go to school. 63 years later, her life is at stake because of a novel virus that has sickened or killed a disproportionate number of Black Americans.

In recent weeks, Turner, who suffers from high blood pressure, has tried in vain to get one of three vaccines in circulation in the United States.

“No one is calling me. No one has contacted me at all. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” said Turner in a Zoom interview from her Norfolk home.

Her video call backdrop shows off a digital image of “Today I met a Rainbow,” her story of breaking the education color barrier in segregated Norfolk.

(Photo: Regina Mobley/WAVY-TV)

In 1959, when Turner and 16 other Black children broke the color barrier in Norfolk public schools, the 13-year-old asked the same question. What about her was wrong when classmates pushed, kicked, and spat on her at Norview Junior High school?

(Photo Courtesy: Patricia Turner)

Decades later at the age of 76, Turner is trying to figure out what is wrong with her efforts to get the coronavirus vaccine.

(Photo Courtesy: Patricia Turner)

“I registered with the health department and I didn’t hear anything from them. [State officials] said educators are going. I am still an educator. I am co-director of Oakwood Academy, which is a small preschool. I said OK I fit that,” said Turner.

“So I tried to register again but they said I was already registered, but I didn’t hear anything,” she said.

Turner says she registered with CVS Pharmacy and contacted three local churches. Still, she has been unable to get a vaccine appointment.

Turner wonders if color is playing a role in why she and thousands of other Black residents haven’t received the shot.

“I don’t know what else to do. I have given my life since I was 13 years old, now it just seems like I’m getting the runaround when it’s something that I really need,” she said.

(Photo Courtesy: Patricia Turner)

According to the Virginia Department of Health Dashboard, to date, for every 100,000 people, an estimated 6,400 Black people versus an estimated 10,900 white people have been inoculated. The state’s population is 19.9% African American.

Turner told 10 On Your Side she is willing to stand in line, even the back of the line, to get the coronavirus vaccine.

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