March 23, 2021
Individuals from diverse positions believe the current method of COVID-19 vaccine rollout is ineffective.
The number of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in people of color due to the coronavirus is higher than white Americans on average, while these populations have received less vaccinations thus far. This disparity is drawing significant concern from experts in various fields.
Cheryl Cato Blakemore, Senior Director of Strategic Communications and Public Relations at Race Forward, has worked closely with marginalized minority communities.
Evidence shows these areas have been disproportionately affected by the virus due to greater comorbidities, and Blakemore believes they should therefore be prioritized in the vaccination effort.
“We know that those comorbidities lead to contracting the virus and dying from the virus. Those are systemic things that have been put in place,” she said.
Statistician for the University of Connecticut Health Disparities Institute Dr. Emil Coman has dedicated the past year to this research across the state and the country, trends evidencing Blakemore’s points.
He says the Black and Latinx populations have both been adversely impacted by the virus with greater positivity, infection, and death rates in comparison to white Americans.
Despite this, according to CDC data with race reported, white Americans are being vaccinated at nearly twice the rate of the Black population and over 2 ½ times that of the Hispanic population on average.
Blakemore says vaccine distribution and COVID-19 policies “absolutely aren’t” equitable in-terms of racial equality, especially considering the higher negative trends within densely populated minority areas.
She emphasized the need to push for a solution and roll out the vaccine in those communities which are more adversely affected.
“That prioritization definitely needs to shift to look at society as a whole… so that we do have more equitable distribution,” Blakemore said.
Coman agrees with the need for a new approach, his motive for change rooted in the lack of effectiveness of many states’ individual age-based structure of vaccination distribution.
“In an epidemic like this, it’s not helping because other people are still spreading it to the community,” he said.
Favoring speed over focusing on holistic need and risk, Connecticut’s approach particularly, which is seen implemented in many states across the country, is not the best way to solve the issue, he said.
He utilizes a tool called the Social Vulnerability Index to determine high-risk communities, and with evidence of higher spread, he believes these places should become a priority as well.
“The issue is, they don’t do this kind of targeting,” he said.
While the race discrepancy is evident, information is only released on a statewide basis, making it difficult to see the true status of vaccinations within socially vulnerable communities.
The Connecticut Department of Health, for example, has released statistics on the race and ethnicity of vaccinated residents, but has not specified which areas these individuals reside. Instead, they have split data into two broad categories: high-need towns and other towns.
High-need towns reflect a Social Vulnerability Index of greater than or equal to 75%. According to the CDC, this scale is based on 15 U.S Census reported factors in four categories: socioeconomic status, household composition (crowded housing), transportation, and race, ethnicity, and language.
There are various areas across the state of Connecticut and the country that are considered high-need, but by consolidating all individuals living in these areas into one group, it poses difficulty for targeting which locations may need increased aid.
Coman says there needs to be more specificity in order to make an argument for greater vaccination among areas that require it the most, but this data is not currently visible to the public.
“If we could see the rate of vaccination by community, or by zip code, or even by town… we could see the extent of the problem,” he said.
Having the ability to view how many people have already been vaccinated on a small scale would help researchers such as Coman present an evidence-based argument for pushing the issue and stopping the virus in high-infection locations.
He said the release of this information is “a different animal” that the Department of Health has less control over, the probable reason for withholding being privacy concerns.
“That’s why this is a more difficult process… It’s probably not as easy but I don’t think it’s impossible,” Coman said.
With that said, change is occurring, Massachusetts opting to release its town-by-town vaccination information to the public on Friday.
Coman hopes that with this initial stone overturned, Connecticut and possibly other states will follow.
In doing so, this data may possibly open the eyes of health officials and prompt local governments to shift their vaccination approach.
Coman does recognize, however, that this idea may be extinguished before it has even begun.
“This vaccination is moving faster than us,” he said. “There’s a possibility that it may open up for everyone before we see this thing out.”