Uneven Distribution Leads to Increased Disparate Impact

By: Emma Rosen
Associate Editor, Vol. 26

Image result for covid vaccine

           The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines created a visible light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that has been the past ten months.  This tunnel was even darker for those communities on which COVID-19 has had a disparate impact.  COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact – including infection rates, deaths, and economics – on Americans of color.[1]  For example, the Center for Disease Control stated that “Black, Hispanic and Native Americans are dying from COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of white Americans.”[2]  Now, access to the vaccine can be added to the list of disparate impacts.  At least sixteen states have released preliminary data showing that their white citizens are receiving the majority of COVID-19 vaccines.[3]  In Colorado, about 68% of the State’s vaccines have been received by white people.[4]  Meanwhile, only 1.8% of the vaccines have been distributed to Black Coloradans and 4.3% have gone to Hispanic Coloradans.[5]  This is despite the fact 4% of Colorado’s population is Black and 22% is Hispanic.[6]  In Pennsylvania, 1.2% of white Pennsylvanians have been vaccinated, while only .3% of Black Pennsylvanians have received the vaccine.[7]  A CNN study further confirmed the inequitable vaccine distribution, analyzing data from fourteen states, which all showed that vaccine administration is over two times higher for white Americans when compared to Black and Latino Americans.[8] 

            These figures are especially egregious considering that 41% of health care workers are Black, Latinx, or Asian Americans.[9]  It is evident that there are extreme distribution issues which are compounded by many Americans exhibiting a hesitancy to be vaccinated at all. Health equity researcher Dr. Fola May stated, “I think we’ve botched this.  If we’re seeing it in [the healthcare workers] population that should have the least biases against science, then when we look into the bigger populations we’re going to have even fewer people who have the right information and access.” 

           The Trump administration failed to reach out to communities of color and encourage partnerships to support vaccination. As a result, an understandable hesitancy lingers.  Dr. Mark Martin, deputy director of the Maryland health department’s Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, plans to address the disparity by encouraging communities of color to trust the vaccine through partnerships with churches, athletes, and neighborhood leaders.[10]  Beyond any hesitancy is also the structural issue of distribution. Right now, people are signing up online or by calling distributors and waiting on hold for hours on end.  Those without internet access, who work during the prime sign-up hours, or who do not have hours to spend on hold are being left behind.  My dad, who is retired, called every day for a week, spending at least an hour per day on hold.  He was able to eventually sign up online by logging on at 6AM. The distributor received 125,000 email requests that same day.  Luck and structural privilege allowed him to access the vaccine.

           Further, considering that communities of color have been impacted the most, those same communities should be a priority to vaccinate in order to slow the death rate and spread of the virus. It seems like common sense to go to the hotspots, but instead, vaccines are administered at an alarmingly low rate in the communities who need it the most. As the new Biden administration puts its plan into action, hopefully it considers expanding outreach and the importance of prioritizing the communities who have been hit the hardest.  

[1] Samantha Artiga, Racial Disparities in COVID-19: Key Findings from Available Data and Analysis, KFF (Aug. 17, 2020), https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/racial-disparities-covid-19-key-findings-available-data-analysis/.

[2] Hannah Recht & Lauren Weber, Black Americans Are Getting COVID Vaccines at Lower Rates than White Americans, Scientific American (Jan. 20, 2021) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/black-americans-are-getting-covid-vaccines-at-lower-rates-than-white-americans/.

[3] Id.

[4] John Ingold, One month in, racial disparities have begun to emerge in Colorado coronavirus vaccination rates, The Colorado Sun (Jan. 23, 2021) https://coloradosun.com/2021/01/23/colorado-coronavirus-vaccine-race-equity/.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Supra n.2.

[8] Nicquel Terry Ellis & Deidre McPhillips, White people are getting vaccinated at higher rates than Black and Latino Americans, CNN (Jan 26, 2021) https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/26/us/vaccination-disparities-rollout/index.html.

[9] Id.

[10] Alex Mann, Hallie Miller, & Meredith Cohn, Red flag raised about race disparity in Maryland’s early coronavirus vaccine rollout data, The Baltimore Sun (Jan. 25, 2021) https://www.baltimoresun.com/coronavirus/bs-md-vaccine-rollout-disparity-20210125-d2mwyfe7evfthgeoswe54tsb54-story.html.