Addressing Racial Inequity in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

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.[1] 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”[2] in the mid-20th century to the exploitation of Blacks for medical experiment purposes during the era of American slavery,[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

As of January 27th, 2021, some Black communities in Florida reported having zero vaccine access.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

In Arizona, there are concerns that there are not adequate Spanish-language interpreters at vaccination sites.[10]

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.[11]


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.


[1] 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.  

[2] 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

[3] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)32032-8/fulltext

[4] 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] https://www.baltimoresun.com/coronavirus/bs-md-vaccine-rollout-disparity-20210125-d2mwyfe7evfthgeoswe54tsb54-story.html

[6] https://www.statesman.com/story/news/2020/12/30/covid-19-vaccination-sites-lacing-east-austin/4091913001/

[7] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/florida/articles/2021-01-27/some-black-communities-in-florida-have-no-vaccine-access

[8] https://www.nbcdfw.com/investigations/texas-has-sent-no-covid-19-vaccine-to-southern-dallas-neighborhoods-where-many-have-died/2522753/

[9] https://www.orlandosentinel.com/espanol/el-sentinel-in-english/os-prem-ex-english-covid-vaccine-information-spanish-20210122-hcmmd24hbrfhbcptho4f3tnqkm-story.html

[10] https://www.abc15.com/news/region-west-valley/glendale/do-arizona-covid-19-vaccination-sites-have-enough-bilingual-assistance

[11] https://www.thecity.nyc/coronavirus/2021/1/26/22251524/vaccines-washington-heights-armory

Coronavirus Update From New York City: January 28, 2021

I hope all of my readers, regardless of where you are, remain healthy and safe during these challenging times. My family, thankfully, continues to remain healthy and safe.

I was talking on here last week about how the United States had recently surpassed 400,000 deaths. Now we are approaching 425,000 deaths. Such is the rate with which people are dying. Needless to say, the new Biden administration has their work cut out in terms of trying to save lives.

In my area, the test positivity rate has upticked slightly to just over 14%. At least it’s not rising as it was around the holidays, but the rate is still concerningly high. That being said, the COVID hospitalization numbers in my area look less bleak than they did even a couple of weeks ago–the hospital closest to where I live is at 85% of overall hospital bed capacity and 79% of ICU capacity. Now, those rates are still too high for comfort, but at least these numbers are not in the 90-100% range like they were the previous couple of weeks.[1]

Needless to say, with the way the COVID situation is, I can’t help but roll my eyes with how there are murmurs of indoor dining returning to New York City. I am deeply sympathetic to the challenges that restaurants are facing financially, but I think the answer to the financial woes would be to give restaurants enough assistance to make it through the pandemic while practicing COVID precautions. I could be wrong, but I’ve heard some countries taking this approach. Unfortunately, it seems like the United States is reluctant to do the same.

The hope in turning things around, of course, lies with a combination of practicing the proper health precautions (social distancing and mask-wearing) as well as the vaccines. I reported in last week’s COVID update post about shortages of vaccines; that remains an issue. Hopefully, that will change as Biden’s COVID team gets up to speed.


[1] To find what the hospitalization statistics are for your area, go to this website and do a search for the county you live in (only applies for those in the United States): https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/12/09/944379919/new-data-reveal-which-hospitals-are-dangerously-full-is-yours#lookup

Coronavirus Update From New York City: January 21, 2021

Yesterday was a joyful day for those who supported President Biden, and a mournful day for the few who support Former President Trump. However, the reality still remains that COVID-19 is a major concern, even though we have recently seen a new President of the United States sworn in.

In the United States, we learned on Tuesday that we have surpassed 400,000 deaths. That is a sobering number, and there’s no way to spin it. I remember when many of us were shocked of the talk of the potential for 100,000 deaths from the pandemic, and now we are at a death toll four times that.

In my neighborhood, the COVID positivity rate has ticked down slightly, but has remained way too high for comfort. The positivity rate is now just over 13% in my zip code, which is down from the 15% or so we were at as of last week but nevertheless uncomfortably high. Furthermore, data seems to indicate that Jamaica Hospital in Queens–the hospital closest to where I live, continues to be under immense stress from COVID-19 patients.

Also of concern is that, at least according to our mayor, New York City is going to run out of COVID vaccines by the end of this week.[1] We are now to the point that New York City is canceling vaccine appointments due to the shortages.[2] So that is concerning, particularly for those vulnerable to experiencing severe consequences from the virus.

The one sliver of hope is that the Biden administration will employ the Defense Production Act in order to ensure a quicker vaccine rollout.[3] Seeing the impacts of the Defense Production Act on vaccine distribution in New York City, and nationwide, cannot come soon enough.[4]


[1] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2021/01/19/nyc-will-run-out-of-vaccines-by-friday–forcing-appointment-cancellations–de-blasio-says

[2] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2021/01/20/vaccine-appointments-cancelled-in-new-york-city

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/live-blog/2021-01-21-covid-live-updates-vaccine-news-n1255115/ncrd1255206#liveBlogHeader

[4] You can read an explanation of the Defense Production Act here: https://www.fema.gov/disasters/defense-production-act