When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two new vaccines to combat the coronavirus, the initial concern was whether African Americans would accept vaccination. The rollout of the medicine from Pfizer and Moderna featured heavy promotion.
High-profile African Americans like former President Barack Obama, National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Coronavirus Task Force Member Dr. Ebony Hilton, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson received their shots publicly. An African American nurse in New York earned distinction as the first person in the country to receive a vaccination, and Meharry Medical College President Dr. James Hildreth, a Black man, sat on the FDA board that approved the vaccines.
Now, concern has shifted from whether African Americans will accept the vaccine. Many now wonder whether doses would be available to the Black community. A new Kaiser Family Foundation report has revealed that African Americans are getting vaccinated at much lower rates than whites. The report, released on Saturday, Jan. 16, shows that in 16 U.S. states where the vaccine is available, white residents are being vaccinated by as much as three times higher than African Americans.
One example is Pennsylvania, where 1.2 percent of white residents had been vaccinated, compared with just 0.3 percent of African Americans in the Keystone State. Kaiser Family Foundation researchers noted that vaccine distribution is supposed to align with healthcare and frontline workers’ demographics, presumably making the vaccine equally available to all races. Some have hinted the lack of vaccine access is rooted in racism – not an unwillingness of minorities to get vaccinated.
Dr. Taison Bell, of the University of Virginia, told NBC News that he was “horrified to discover that members of environmental services — the janitorial staff — did not have access to hospital email.” Hospital staff receives its vaccination information via email, Dr. Bell stated. “That’s what structural racism looks like,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told NBC. “Those groups were seen and not heard — nobody thought about it.”
As of Jan. 16, the U.S. had surpassed more than 23.3 million total cases and 388,700 deaths due to the pandemic, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are dying from COVID-19 nearly three times the rate of white people.
“With the country’s coronavirus pandemic continuing unabated as cases and deaths increase, and a more contagious variant of the virus spreads, there is a greater focus on vaccine distribution troubles,” Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman wrote. The covid-19 vaccine distribution effort is in trouble, Altman demurred.
According to federal data, only about a third of the more than 25 million doses distributed nationwide have been given to people.
“Hundreds of different distribution programs are being organized across states and counties for frontline health workers, residents of long-term care facilities, the elderly and others that states are prioritizing in different sequences,” Altman continued.
“The country needs a distribution strategy that our fragmented, multilayered healthcare system can effectively implement. This will require more federal direction, a simpler priority structure, and a different role for the states.”