Racial Disparities Apparent In U.S. COVID-19 Vaccination Drive
AP: Black Americans are getting inoculated for coronavirus at levels far below their share of the general population.
A racial gap has opened up in the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination drive, with Black Americans in many places lagging behind whites in receiving shots, an Associated Press analysis shows.
An early look at the 17 states and two cities that have released racial breakdowns through Jan. 25 found that Black people in all places are getting inoculated at levels below their share of the general population, in some cases significantly below.
That is true even though they constitute an oversize percentage of the nation’s health care workers, who were put at the front of the line for shots when the campaign began in mid-December.
For example, in North Carolina, Black people make up 22% of the population and 26% of the health care workforce but only 11% of the vaccine recipients so far. White people, a category in which the state includes both Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites, are 68% of the population and 82% of those vaccinated.
The gap is deeply troubling to some, given that the coronavirus has taken a disproportionate toll in severe sickness and death on Black people in the U.S., where the scourge has killed over 430,000 Americans. Black, Hispanic, and Native American people are dying from COVID-19 at almost three times the rate of white people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re going to see a widening and exacerbation of the racial health inequities that were here before the pandemic and worsened during the pandemic if our communities cannot access the vaccine,” said Dr. Uché Blackstock, a New York emergency physician and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, an advocacy group that addresses bias and inequality.
Experts say several factors could be driving the emerging disparity, including deep distrust of the medical establishment among Black Americans because of a history of discriminatory treatment; inadequate access to the vaccine in Black neighborhoods; and a digital divide that can make it difficult to get crucial information. Vaccination sign-ups are being done to a large degree online.
“It’s frustrating and challenging,” said Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who runs Tennessee’s vaccination program, which is doubling the doses sent to some hard-hit rural counties but is meeting with deep-rooted mistrust among some Black Tennesseans.
“We have to be working very hard to rebuild that trust and get these folks vaccinated,” Fiscus said. “They’re dying. They’re being hospitalized.”
Hispanic people also lagged behind in vaccinations, but their levels were somewhat closer to expectations in most places studied. Hispanics on average are younger than other Americans, and vaccinations have yet to be thrown open to young people.
However, several states where Hispanic communities were hit particularly hard by COVID-19 have yet to report data, notably California and New York.
President Joe Biden is trying to bring more equity to the vaccine rollout he inherited from the Trump administration. The Biden administration is encouraging states to map and target vulnerable neighborhoods using such tools as the CDC’s social vulnerability index, which incorporates data on race, poverty, crowded housing, and other factors.
“We are going to take extra steps to get to the people hardest to reach, and that work is happening right now,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of Biden’s COVID-19 equity task force.
Most states have yet to release any racial data on who has been vaccinated. Even in the states that provided breakdowns, the data is often incomplete, with many records missing details on race. However, the missing information would not be enough to change the general picture in most cases.