As the COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues throughout the U.S. and Canada, public health agencies and advocates are keeping a watchful eye on vaccination data. One key metric they are following is how effectively each state is getting their supply of doses distributed to the public.
Unfortunately, early reports show that the same racial and ethnic minorities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 infections and deaths are also facing health disparities during the vaccine rollout. The result is a disproportionately low percentage of minority groups, especially Black and Hispanic people, being vaccinated.
Analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that in the 23 states reporting vaccination data by race and ethnicity, “there was a consistent pattern of Black and Hispanic people receiving smaller shares of vaccinations … compared to their shares of the total population.”
“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,” said Samantha Artiga, KFF’s director of the Racial Equity and Health Policy Program.
This data is concerning since 36 percent of essential workers in the U.S. are Black or Hispanic. These essential workers are among the most at-risk groups for getting COVID-19 and it’s critical they aren’t left behind in the vaccination effort. We must take steps to understand and close these vaccination gaps for essential workers, and make sure they aren’t repeated as vaccination begins among construction workers, who are also a very racially and ethnically diverse group.
Possible Reasons for Vaccination Gaps
There are several possible reasons for these reduced vaccination rates, with most of them tracing back to barriers due to socioeconomic status and a lack of trust in the healthcare system.
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine requires several steps that many of us may take for granted: Internet access for registration, access to transportation to the vaccination site and a work schedule that offers sick time or flexibility. Research shows that racial minorities, older adults and rural residents in the U.S. are less likely to have Internet access at home, that people of color are twice as likely not to have access to a car and that Black, Hispanic and Indegenous workers are more likely to have jobs that must be done in person.
This combination of lack of access to vaccine registration, reduced access to transportation and needing to perform their jobs in person creates significant barriers to getting vaccinated. These barriers and a lack of trust in the healthcare system stem from existing structural racism. Polling shows that 70 percent of Black Americans believe people are treated unfairly based on race or ethnicity when they seek medical care. Consequently, a majority of Black Americans have low levels of trust in the health care system, doctors and hospitals.
In December, Pew Research found that Black Americans were the group most hesitant to get the vaccine, with only 42 percent saying they would consider taking the vaccine compared to 63 percent of Hispanic adults and 61 percent of White adults. This distrust has been reduced somewhat during the first several months of 2021, though it still exists.
Regardless of race or ethnicity, we must understand what’s driving vaccine reluctance if we’re going to achieve the widespread vaccination that’s necessary to stop the pandemic. Rather than dismissing people who are reluctant to get the vaccine, we need to take the time to listen and acknowledge their concerns, then present the best fact-based information available. In all the polling data, there was one constant – people are more willing to get the vaccine if they personally know someone else who has gotten it.