People who have been following the news in the United States would have heard about the challenges this country is experiencing in distributing the COVID-19 vaccines. However, early data seems to be indicating that racial inequity has also affected who gets the vaccines (as if it doesn’t already affect enough things).
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the study of health issues in the United States, has been able to collect data on the percentage of vaccines distributed to different races/ethnicities in a number of states. The results are not very promising: in states where this data has been collected, it appears that the percentage of vaccines distributed to Hispanics and Blacks does not compare to the percentage of COVID deaths or the total populations of those two races/ethnicities. It does not whether we’re talking about a Democratic-run state like Pennsylvania or a Republican-run one like Texas—this is an issue across the board at this stage.
So what might some of the issues be? Some of the news stories I’ve read and other issues that have been mentioned in other sources might give us some hints:
For centuries, there has been abuse of people of color in the medical field.
The instances of the abuse of people of color in the medical field are numerous. From the infamous “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” in the mid-20th century to the exploitation of Blacks for medical experiment purposes during the era of American slavery, the history of people of color being medically exploited is about as long as, well, the history of people of color existing in what is now the United States of America.
Because of the centuries-long abuse of people of color in the medical field in the United States, the concern is that this has led to deep mistrust in the advice of public health officials by some people of color. This may result in a deep mistrust when it comes to getting the vaccines—a concern that is held by America’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
In some cases, it is clear that minority communities are not being prioritized as locations for vaccination sites or as locations for vaccine shipments.
I don’t have any hard studies to back this up but instead stories from across the country. The stories are equally compelling and disturbing, though.
In Austin, Texas, there is a severe lack of vaccination sites in the city’s poorest and most ethnically diverse areas.
As of January 27th, 2021, some Black communities in Florida reported having zero vaccine access.
In Dallas, Texas, Southern Dallas clearly did not get priority from the state government in receiving COVID vaccines, even though that part of Dallas got hit by COVID extremely hard.
Stories such as these show that perhaps one of the issues we’re dealing with is that communities of color, and particularly communities of color that have experienced the hardest impacts from COVID, are not getting the priority they should receive.
Language barriers exist, and those responsible for distributing information on vaccines at times put embarrassingly little effort into addressing them.
In Florida, information for Spanish-speaking people who want to take the vaccine is nowhere near what it should be.
In Arizona, there are concerns that there are not adequate Spanish-language interpreters at vaccination sites.
In the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City, a neighborhood with a large Spanish-speaking population, there were no Spanish language interpreters at the vaccine site.
How can we possibly expect people to know the information they need to get the vaccines they need when people have to confront a language barrier? This is a rhetorical question, of course. The concern is that if we don’t make the effort to deal with the language barrier, many people will be left too frustrated to continue in their attempts to receive the vaccinations they need.
The three issues mentioned above are three of the issues that are making it a challenge for people of color to get the vaccinations needed, even though many of the communities hit hardest by this have been communities of color.
 https://www.kff.org/policy-watch/early-state-vaccination-data-raise-warning-flags-racial-equity/. I should note here, by the way, that this study includes data on Blacks and Hispanics, but data on Native Americans is still apparently quite limited. Because of the limited data on Native Americans and vaccine usage and distribution, this post will not focus on Native Americans. A second post on the topic of racial inequity and COVID vaccine distribution may be required, if such inequities also exist with Native Americans.
 The short version was that this was a highly unethical study looking to record the natural history of syphilis in Blacks. As for a longer version, it’s on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm
 The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, has a longer piece on the issue of medical racism in the United States: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext
5 Replies to “Addressing Racial Inequity in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution”
When you look back on how the small pox vaccine was distributed we could learn quite a few lessons.
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What sorts of lessons do you think would be useful? I’m not familiar with the history of the smallpox vaccine distribution, so I’m interested in learning more!
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I saw a quick thing about it and was going to look into it more. It was talking about how NYC vaccinated thousands in a day, people just lined up, but I will look into it more.
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Yes, please do! I think it’s important to look back at history and look at the mistakes we made (as well as things we did well) as a guide on how to do something well in the future.
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