The Racial Gap in the Vaccination Process
By Sophie Avery
As COVID-19 vaccine distribution continues across states, many people are looking towards issues that have developed within the process, such as the growing racial gap in the rollout of the vaccine.
Racial minorities in the U.S. are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 has killed Black and Latino people at twice the rate of white residents. This racial disparity has continued in early state vaccination data. Out of 17 states publicly including race/ethnicity in their vaccination data, 16 of them report that the proportion of vaccinations given to Black people is smaller than the number of cases black people account for. In Mississippi, Black people have received 15 percent of vaccinations, while they account for 38 percent of cases and 42 percent of deaths.
Another issue is that Black Americans make up a large portion of healthcare workers. In North Carolina, according to an AP Analysis, Black people account for 22 percent of the U.S. population and 26 percent of healthcare workers but only 11 percent of those who have received the vaccine. In contrast, white people account for 68 percent of the U.S. population and make up 82 percent of those vaccinated—including both Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites.
Experts propose multiple reasons for this gap. One is that those currently eligible for the vaccine don’t necessarily represent the demographics of the country. The nation’s over-65 population is whiter than other age groups. As states have widened their eligibility to include older people, the relative share of Black people being vaccinated is decreasing.
Another contributing factor is the distrust in the medical establishment that has been fostered in POC communities due to years of discriminatory treatment. Similarly, there is distrust among Latino communities due to fear of deportation. Miami-Dade NAACP President Daniella Pierre explained during a media event on January 24 that adequate education on the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine is crucial for reaching minority communities, especially Black communities.
“For a community that has years of fear and distrust, and rightfully so, instead of just giving us a vaccine, please provide the education, so it can lessen the fears that individuals may have,” Pierre said.
Lack of information regarding accessibility is also an issue. A Kaiser Family Foundation study done in January found that 60 percent of Black and Hispanic adults said they don't have enough information about where to get the vaccine, while the same is true for half of white residents.
Another driving factor lies in the digital divide. Vaccination sign-ups are primarily done online, which limits their accessibility. According to the U.S. Census, 21.2 percent of white households in the U.S. are without high-speed internet, compared to 36.4 and 30.3 percent of Black and Hispanic households, respectively. This, coupled with a lack of trust and access to information, are all key components to the widening gap.
The Biden administration is currently working to address the inequity in the distribution process that has been seen over the past few months. President Biden and his team are pressuring states to focus on at-risk communities through the use of the CDC’s social vulnerability index, which includes specific data on variables such as race, poverty, and crowded housing.
Other strategies that are being taken include recruiting notable Black Americans to help promote vaccination. At the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University, Dean Thomas A. LaVeist organized a campaign to promote COVID safety protocols using New Orleans hip-hop artist Big Freedia. Many Black leaders are pushing for their communities to not be left behind as vaccinations continue.
Most states have not released racial data on vaccination. Even among states that have provided more specific information, the data is incomplete. For most states, according to the Associated Press, any unaccounted information in these reports would not be able to alter the general analysis of a racial gap in the vaccination process.