Early data on the rollout of the vaccines for COVID-19 shows that minority populations in the United States already disproportionately affected by the pandemic are not being immunized at the same rate as white Americans.
Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Uché Blackstock believes there are multiple factors contributing to this disparity.
“One of the problems that I saw very early on is that if you’re going to have mostly hospitals and pharmacies dispensing the vaccine, we’re going to miss a lot of people,” Blackstock said. According to recent research from GoodRX, minority communities tend to have fewer pharmacies per capita, which puts them at a disadvantage based on where they live.
“We need to bring the vaccines to the people,” Blackstock added, suggesting that mobile vaccination units could help increase access in areas where transportation is an issue.
In 16 states that have released preliminary data on who has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, white residents were more likely to have received a shot than Blacks, KHN news reported. In Pennsylvania, data through Jan. 14 showed that while 1.3 percent of whites in the state had received a vaccination, just 0.3 percent of Black residents had. In Mississippi, 1.3 percent of African Americans residents have been vaccinated so far, compared with 3.5 percent of white residents.
While there are numerous factors that might account for the early discrepancy in the rate of vaccination, Blackstock thinks the pattern will hold.
“It’s the same thing that people said at the beginning of the pandemic, when there was incomplete data that showed that Black and Latinx people were also being infected and hospitalized and dying at higher rates. But then once we got the complete data it confirmed the initial data, like we already know which communities are vulnerable,” Blackstock said.
African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans die from COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate as white Americans, according to figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These minority groups are also about four times as likely to be hospitalized with the coronavirus as white Americans are.
“If we’re seeing these trends at the beginning, I think now is an opportunity to respond to that data, right?” Blackstock said of the rollout of the vaccine. “To direct our efforts, according to the data. And since we're seeing these trends this early on, we can actually try to course-correct.”
On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki spoke of the challenge of meeting President Biden’s goal of vaccinating 1 million Americans every day for the next 100 days.
“It’s not just about having supply, which is pivotal, of course. It’s also about having more people that can physically put the shots into the arms of Americans and ensuring that we have places that that can be done,” Psaki said.
Biden has often spoken about the need for an equitable pandemic response. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order stating that “the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated severe and pervasive health and social inequities in America” and directing federal agencies to coordinate a response.
Blackstock said another factor contributing to preliminary low vaccination rates among African Americans is vaccine skepticism, which she attributed to a long-standing pattern of discrimination against minorities by the medical establishment. But she believes there are ways to combat that mistrust.
“I think, with that issue, what needs to happen is we need health care professionals in those communities to be able to have conversations with their patients about the vaccine and to answer those questions,” she said, adding that those one-on-one efforts should be bolstered by a national public health campaign to promote vaccines.
“We need to see [it] on buses and trains and billboards, social media, commercials on TV,” Blackstock said. “We need to see information out there about the vaccine, why it’s important for people to take it, and to see positive imagery around speaking of vaccines. We have not seen that at all.”
Last, Blackstock noted that some minority communities don’t have access to or proficiency with the technology required by some health systems to register for an appointment to be vaccinated.
“If you have the vaccines there, but people from the community are not able to get appointments because of the cumbersome process for signing up for a vaccine … then the people who need the vaccine aren’t going to get it right,” Blackstock added. “And we’re going to reinforce the inequities that we’ve already seen in the pandemic.”
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