What We’re Reading: How inequities driving COVID-19 in Black communities now drive inequities in COVID-19 vaccine access

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Structural racism and inequitable access to health services have driven disparate rates of COVID-19 infections, illnesses and deaths in Black communities. The same forces are hindering vaccine access. We’re reading what has to change.

Demographic Characteristics of Persons Vaccinated During the First Month of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program — United States, December 14, 2020–January 14, 2021: Ensuring equitable COVID-19 access and uptake is the most immediate way to address the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on Black communities in the United States. The challenges to assessing success in that, however, met a predictable challenge right away. The challenge was predictable because it also drives inequitable disease surveillance, funding and responses. While gender data was available for 97% of those vaccinated in the month following the emergency use authorization of the Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines, and age data for 99.9%, data on race and ethnicity was missing for nearly half. “Because persons who are Black, AI/AN, or Hispanic have been found to have more severe outcomes from COVID-19 than persons who are White,” the authors of this U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report note, “careful monitoring of vaccination by race/ethnicity is critical.”

Palm Beach County snaps up more vaccine: (Health officials will get another 5,000 doses of the vaccine, some of which will go to impoverished seniors in the Glades) . . . The headline of this story sounds like the county got lucky — which it did compared to what occasioned the added doses. What came before, after Florida’s governor allocated vaccines to 67 Publix supermarkets in Palm Beach County, was that none were available for county public health clinics. The impact of this was particularly felt in the predominately Black Palm Beach County city of Belle Glade. Belle Glade, the site of historic health inequities that have led to high incidence of HIV and of tuberculosis, as well as other chronic and infectious diseases, also is miles from the nearest Publix supermarket. Now, finally, some of the doses will go to the county’s health department there, with efforts just beginning to reach out to the residents who need them.

Here’s how to fix racial inequity in covid-19 vaccinationAs indicated in the above reports, vaccine equity doesn’t happen without active efforts to reverse long-standing challenges. Advancing Health Equity fournder Dr. Uché Blackstock, who has written on vaccines in a Science Speaks post, (in which she noted: “Vaccines are among the most powerful tools we have to reduce health disparities and advance health equity . . .”) and HIV physician Dr. Oni Blackstock, list four purposeful steps the administration can take “to ensure that Black Americans are not left out of the vaccine rollout process.”

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