The first data of those vaccinated against the coronavirus in the United States have raised an alarm about the racial disparity in access to treatment. Priority groups of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans – those hardest hit by the pandemic – are significantly underrepresented among those who have received the doses, while whites receive treatment according to their proportion in the population. The Joe Biden Administration has put in place a plan to reverse the inequity in the system, which includes placing vaccination centers in high-risk neighborhoods and investing in mobile clinics that take doses to underserved areas.
A month and a half after the start of the vaccination campaign, only 8.3% of Americans have received at least one dose and only 2% of the population (6.7 million) have completed treatment. Most of the States have not published to which ethnic group those vaccinated belong, but the data from the territories that have done so show the racial gap. Based on updated figures from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60.4% of those who have received the vaccine are white, 11.5% Hispanic, 6% Asian and 5.4% African American. The rest belong to another ethnic group.
In the United States, the virus has preyed on minorities. African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans die from coronavirus at a rate almost three times higher than whites and hospitalized people are four times higher, according to CDC data. Thomas La Veist, co-chair of the Louisiana Covid-19 Equity Task Force, believes the biggest problem is minority “real and justified” distrust of government. As an example, at the beginning of the pandemic, the test to their neighborhoods, they wanted to know if they had the virus, but they couldn’t. “Now they are told to get a vaccine that instead of developing in 10 years, it took 10 months,” he explains.
For now, the vaccine is available only to high-priority groups, which broadly means older adults and medical personnel. The first data has raised the alarm because African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans make up 41% of healthcare workers. If the figures revealed already indicate a significant racial gap, it is likely that it will only widen as the following groups become younger and less familiar with science. “We have a problem of mistrust, which will surely increase when the vaccine is available to everyone,” warns La Veist, who is contacting African-American and Latino leaders to inform their communities about the importance of getting vaccinated.
The current patterns are “early warning signs about possible racial disparities in vaccine access and acceptance,” according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The experts list, among the possible gap factors, in addition to a deep distrust of the medical system dragged by a history of discriminatory treatment; poor access to vaccines in black neighborhoods; and a digital disparity that makes access to information difficult. Most of the registrations to get the vaccine do so through the internet.
The head of the White House Working Group on Equity and COVID-19, Marcella Nunez-Smith, urged States to incorporate equity into their vaccination plans and pledged that the Government will increase information on the areas to which the doses are not reaching. He also assured that they are working so that transportation to medical centers is free and the time used in transportation and treatment is remunerated. This is to avoid people having to choose between working or getting vaccinated.
To build trust in the African-American community, the White House is considering partnering with community leaders, pastors and other members close to minorities to serve as transmitters of information about how to get vaccinated and the need for treatment. With 90,000 deaths, the United States registered the highest monthly number of deaths from covid in January since the start of the pandemic. In total, the virus has already destroyed 441,000 lives and infections, still uncontrolled, exceed 26 million.
The disparity in the States that have detailed the figures is capital in some cases. For example, in Pennsylvania, whites have been vaccinated four times more often than African-Americans, according to a CNN analysis. In Mississippi, blacks have received 15% of vaccinations, when they represent 38% of the population and 42% of the deceased in the state. In Texas, where 39.7% are Hispanic, only 15% have received the vaccine. The community accounts for nearly half of the deaths in that state, according to an Associated Press analysis.
New York’s disparity
Of the nearly 300,000 New Yorkers who have already received the vaccine, and whose ethnicity is known, 48% are White, 15% Latino, 15% Asian and 11% African American. The data does not represent the population of the cosmopolitan city, which was once the epicenter of the pandemic: 29% are Latino and 24% are black. “Clearly, we see a profound disparity that must be addressed aggressively and creatively,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday at a press conference in which he warned that they were running out of vaccines. He only had about 53,000 first doses left. The mayor said the “best cure” for the racial gap problem was to increase the supply of doses.
New York City Council Public Defender Jumaane Williams and New York Public Accounts Supervisor and mayoral candidate Scott Stringer called the vaccine distribution plan “near criminal” and a “national disgrace.” “This is a moral and administrative failure of the highest order,” Stringer charged. They both asked de Blasio to provide essential workers with pay when they go to get vaccinated, improve websites to schedule appointments for treatment, and not allow people living outside of town to get vaccinated.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.