Early Data Shows Striking Racial Disparities In Who's Getting The COVID-19 Vaccine

Jan 28, 2021
Originally published on January 29, 2021 11:06 am

Slightly more than 6% of American adults have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — but a disproportionately small number of them are Black and Hispanic people.

"What we're seeing from the states that are currently reporting data on vaccination distribution by race and ethnicity is a consistent pattern that is really showing a mismatch between who's receiving the vaccine and who has been hardest hit by the pandemic," says Samantha Artiga, the director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The group has been tracking data from the 17 states that are publicly reporting vaccination patterns by race and ethnicity, and significant disparities are emerging.

In Mississippi, 15% of vaccinations have been received by Black people, while they account for 38% of coronavirus cases and 42% of deaths in the state. In Texas, Hispanic people make up 15% of those who have been vaccinated, compared to 44% of cases and nearly half of the deaths.

Artiga notes that the data so far is both early and limited: for instance, only a small number of states are reporting race and ethnicity data right now, and the vaccine currently is available only to high-priority groups.

Nonetheless, the current patterns are "early warning flags about potential racial disparities in access to and uptake of the vaccine," according to the Kaiser Family Foundation report.

Vaccine appointments often require things like Internet access, reliable transportation and flexible work schedules. That troubles Artiga.

"How many people may be left behind if those are the resources that are required to access the vaccine?" she says.

In an interview with All Things Considered, Artiga discusses what can be done to help improve access to the vaccine. Here are excerpts.

In Washington, D.C., the health department has been narrowing vaccines sign-ups by zip code, to try to target less affluent, less white neighborhoods. Have you heard of similar efforts around the country?

We are increasingly hearing that areas are adding new vaccination sites and adopting new sign-up processes to help make the vaccine more available for people. So as you noted, D.C. is prioritizing certain wards for appointments based on some of the early data that were showing disparities and who was able to access the vaccine.

I believe there are some health systems and areas that are planning to provide appointments, based on lottery systems when vaccines become available. I'm hearing now of some mobile vaccine clinics that are going into operation to go directly into communities. And there are other areas that are also beginning to adopt this approach of targeting specific geographic areas that we know have been hardest hit by the pandemic and may have more limited resources to be able to navigate sign-up processes for vaccines.

I'm thinking about the challenge of setting up a national vaccination campaign that has to administer hundreds of millions of doses, and layering on top of that a need to make it accessible to people who might not have a vehicle, who might not have easy access to the Internet. How important is it to front load those accessibility issues if you're going to make this campaign work?

I really think the early data, and what we know about people's willingness and concerns related to the vaccine, point to the importance of having a multipronged approach that is seeking to address access barriers and provide information and education to help address people's questions and concerns.

And I think that we also can learn a lot by listening directly to communities about how and where they want to access the vaccine, where they will feel comfortable accessing the vaccine, and who they want information from about the safety of the vaccine.

Correction: 1/29/21

A previous version of this Web story mistakenly said that 15% of Black people in Mississippi and 15% of Hispanic people in Texas have been vaccinated. In fact, 15% of those who have been vaccinated in Mississippi are Black, while 15% of those vaccinated in Texas are Hispanic.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The White House has warned that it could take months for everyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine to get it. To date, just over 6% of adults in the U.S. have gotten at least one dose. And within that 6%, a disproportionately small number of Black and Hispanic people, who've been hardest hit in the pandemic. Samantha Artiga is director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and she's been tracking the vaccine rollout.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SAMANTHA ARTIGA: Thanks so much for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First, give us an overview of what you're seeing in these numbers. How disproportionate are the vaccination rates compared to the infection and death rates when you look at it by race?

ARTIGA: So what we're seeing from the states that are currently reporting data on vaccination distribution by race and ethnicity is a consistent pattern that is really showing a mismatch between who's receiving the vaccine and who has been hardest hit by the pandemic. So for example, if we look at a state like Mississippi, we see that 15% of vaccinations have been received by Black people in the state, whereas they've accounted for 38% of cases and 42% of deaths. Similarly, if we look at Texas, we see that 15% of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people in the state, while they make up 44% of cases and nearly half of deaths in the state. So those are some large disparities that we're looking at, although I would note that the data are still early, and there are a lot of gaps and limitations associated with it.

SHAPIRO: You know, here in Washington, D.C., the health department has been narrowing vaccine sign-ups by ZIP code to try to target less affluent, less white neighborhoods where the pandemic is having the harshest toll. What kinds of creative approaches have you heard of in other parts of the country to try to remedy this discrepancy that we're seeing?

ARTIGA: So we are increasingly hearing that areas are adding new vaccination sites and adopting new sign-up processes to help make the vaccine more available for people. So as you noted, D.C. is prioritizing certain wards for appointments based on some of the early data that were showing disparities in who was able to access the vaccine. I believe there are some health systems in areas that are planning to provide appointments based on lottery systems when vaccines become available. I'm hearing now of some mobile vaccine clinics that are going into operation to go directly into communities. And there are other areas that are also beginning to adopt this approach of targeting specific geographic areas that we know have been hardest hit by the pandemic and may have more limited resources to be able to navigate sign-up processes for vaccines.

SHAPIRO: I know that you tweeted a photo of your mother getting vaccinated and talked about how that personal experience fits into the larger policy implications that you spend all day thinking about. Can you tell us about that moment and what it meant to you?

ARTIGA: That moment was really meaningful for me. I think as I was going through that process, I could not help but be struck by how our ability to reach that point was so dependent on the resources I had available to me in terms of access to the Internet, email to be able to receive the alerts, time to be able to focus on getting her through the sign-up process, flexibility in my work schedule to be able to take her to that appointment. And to me, it just really raised the concerns about how many people may be left behind if those are the resources that are required to access the vaccine. And going forward, I think it's going to be really important to ensure that all individuals can have access to the vaccine regardless of the resources that they have available. And so really intentional focus on reducing access barriers will be an important part of efforts to achieve that.

SHAPIRO: You know, I'm thinking about the challenge of setting up this national vaccination campaign that has to administer literally hundreds of millions of doses and layering on top of that a need to make it accessible to people who might not have a vehicle, who might not have easy access to the Internet. I mean, how important is it to front load those accessibility issues if you're going to make this campaign work?

ARTIGA: So I really think the early data and what we know about people's willingness and concerns related to the vaccine point to the importance of having a multipronged approach that is seeking to address access barriers and provide information and education to help address people's questions and concerns. And I think that we also can learn a lot by listening directly to communities about how and where they want to access the vaccine, where they will feel comfortable accessing the vaccine and who they want information from about safety of the vaccine.

SHAPIRO: Samantha Artiga is director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Thanks a lot.

ARTIGA: Thanks so much, Ari.

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