by Jennifer B.
Last week, I saw a local news report about the racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates in our state. It was particularly disturbing considering that racial minorities contracted, suffered complications from, and died of COVID-19 at a disproportionate rate in the past year (Melillo 2021). Unfortunately, several months into the vaccine distribution, the data reveals these racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates across the country.
The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) is collecting and analyzing data from the 48 states that are reporting on COVID-19 vaccinations by race and ethnicity. They have observed a consistent pattern across states of Black and Hispanic people receiving smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of cases and deaths and compared to their shares of the total population (Ndugga et al. 2021). White people received a higher share of vaccinations compared to their share of cases and deaths and their share of the total population in most states reporting data (Ndugga et al. 2021). Figure 1 shows the shares of COVID-19 vaccinations, cases, and deaths among Black, Hispanic, Asian, and White people by state, as well as the distribution of the total population by these groups as of 2019 (Ndugga et al. 2021). The following graphic illustrates the racial disparities in vaccination rates here in Connecticut (Skahill 2021).
According to a March NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist survey, there is little difference in COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among Black and White Americans. Among survey respondents, 73% of Black people and 70% of White people said that they either planned to get a coronavirus vaccine or had done so already; 25% of Black respondents and 28% of white respondents said they did not plan to be vaccinated (Summers 2021). Latino respondents were slightly more likely to say they would not get vaccinated at 37%, compared with 63% who either had or intended to get a vaccine (Summers 2021).
Lack of access may be playing a greater role in racial disparities than vaccine hesitancy. Health experts and advocates have mentioned technology, transportation and language barriers as obstacles that stand between many residents of color and vaccination (Brindley 2021). For instance, to register for an online vaccine scheduling system, one needs reliable internet access and the ability to get online frequently to check for available appointments. Impoverished, majority-black or Hispanic neighborhoods tend to have fewer pharmacies, hospitals, and other sites for vaccine distribution (Koh 2021). Traveling to another town to be vaccinated may not be an option for someone who does not own a car.
In my own experience trying to schedule a vaccine appointment, I noticed several points that might discourage someone with less resources than myself. When I checked the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) last week, the only open appointments were many miles away from New Haven in Bridgeport, Greenwich, and Uncasville. Most of the appointment times were in the middle of my workday. If I had a job without paid leave, I’m sure I would have been hesitant to book one of those appointments. When I called the vaccine information hotline of one local health system, I was given the option to select 1 for English and 2 for Spanish. There was no third option for speakers of other languages. Even though the vaccine is supposed to be available to everyone, including the uninsured and the undocumented, I was told to bring an ID and my insurance card to my appointment. There was no mention of the fact that neither one of those things is required to be vaccinated.
If there is hesitancy involved in the racial disparities in vaccination, perhaps it is due to the failure of the US healthcare establishment to earn credibility with minority communities. In 2003, the Institute of Medicine released its Unequal Treatment report, which concluded that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive preventive medical treatments than whites and often receive lower-quality care (Hostetter and Klein 2018). The analysis found that even after accounting for factors typically cited to explain racial disparities like income, neighborhood, comorbid illnesses, and health insurance type, health outcomes among blacks, in particular, were still worse than whites (Hostetter and Klein 2018). A 2016 whitepaper from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement found that, in the intervening years, little progress toward equity in healthcare had been made.
Concerns about the vaccines’ development and safety are not unique to one racial or ethnic group. It is up to the government and the medical establishment to do the work of educating the public about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and to make the vaccine accessible to anyone who desires to be vaccinated. As pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Rhea Boyd stated in an Opinion piece for the New York Times, “the U.S. health system should stop engaging Black communities by asking for their blind trust.” What we need is access – “to insurance coverage, reliable care, credible information and actual vaccines” (Boyd 2021).
Featured Image: Stanwyck Cromwell, of Bloomfield, right, receives the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at the First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield. Photo Credit: Yehyun Kim :: ctmirror.org
Boyd, Rhea. “Black People Need Better Vaccine Access, Not Better Vaccine Attitudes.” The New York Times, March 5, 2021, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/05/opinion/us-covid-black-people.html.
Brindley, Emily. “Racial Disparities in CT’s COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout Are Supposed to Be Narrowing. They’re Not.” The Bulletin, March 28, 2021. https://www.norwichbulletin.com/story/news/2021/03/28/connecticut-vaccination-racial-disparities-failing-narrow/7028356002/.
Hostetter, Martha, and Sarah Klein. “In Focus: Reducing Racial Disparities in Health Care by Confronting Racism.” The Commonwealth Fund, September 27, 2018. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/2018/sep/focus-reducing-racial-disparities-health-care-confronting-racism.
Koh, Charissa. “Mistrust, Lack of Access Cause COVID-19 Vaccine Gaps.” WORLD, March 10, 2021. https://wng.org/roundups/mistrust-lack-of-access-cause-covid-19-vaccine-gaps-1617222642.
Melillo, Gianna. “Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccine Rates Tarnish Swift US Rollout.” AJMC, April 1, 2021. https://www.ajmc.com/view/disparities-in-covid-19-vaccine-rates-tarnish-swift-us-rollout.
Ndugga, Nambi, Olivia Pham, Latoya Hill, Samantha Artiga, Raisa Alam, and Noah Parker. “Latest Data on COVID-19 Vaccinations Race/Ethnicity.” KFF (blog), April 21, 2021. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/latest-data-on-covid-19-vaccinations-race-ethnicity/.
Skahill, Patrick. “Tracking COVID Data: Vaccinations, Hospitalizations & Your Town’s Infection Rate.” Connecticut Public Radio, April 23, 2021. https://www.wnpr.org/post/tracking-covid-data-vaccinations-hospitalizations-your-towns-infection-rate.
Summers, Juana. “Little Difference in Vaccine Hesitancy Among White and Black Americans, Poll Finds.” NPR.org, March 12, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/03/12/976172586/little-difference-in-vaccine-hesitancy-among-white-and-black-americans-poll-find.