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Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccinations

While people of color have been devastatingly overrepresented in the number of severe COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, they have been underrepresented in the number of vaccinations since the rollout began. These racial disparities are caused by several factors, including lack of access to the vaccine in underserved communities, lack of access to vaccine safety information, and vaccine hesitancy. Lack of access to the vaccine has been one of the biggest hurdles for people of color that are eager to get vaccinated. Barriers to blame include the locations of vaccination sites, transportation, and online sign-up requirements. In many states, the rollout brought delays in mass vaccination for people of color. According to the New York Times, Georgia’s vaccination data post-rollout showed that Black people made up only 19% of the state’s vaccine recipients, although they are about 33% of the population. These numbers were likely impacted by the locations of vaccination sites during the initial rollout, which prioritized counties of higher socioeconomic status. For example, north Fulton counties in the state of Georgia received vaccine sites weeks before southern Fulton counties, such as College Park and East Point Georgia. For those who do not yet wish to get vaccinated, it is important to remember that vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans is caused in large part by historical inequalities in the healthcare system and institutional racism. The medical establishment has historically used Black bodies to further its own advancement without consent, while simultaneously developing medical technologies, theories, and institutions to reinforce systems of oppression. The non-consensual experimentation on Black bodies throughout American history laid the foundation for distrust in physicians and the healthcare system today. In modern times, the healthcare system is still plagued by racial prejudice, and marginalization occurs at every level of the medical system. Differential treatment and discrimination range from the type of medicine a physician will prescribe, to how a Black person will be treated in a waiting room, doctor's office, or emergency room. “People of color, along with immigrants and differently-abled men and women, have endured centuries of having their trust violated. We need to give people the facts about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and renew their trust toward health care in general.” - Dr. Sherita Golden With such a long legacy of exploiting and discriminating against Black people, is it any surprise that there is distrust in in the U.S. healthcare system? As Dr. Sherita Golden, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Johns Hopkins Medicine said, “People of color, along with immigrants and differently-abled men and women have endured centuries of having their trust violated. We need to give people the facts about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and renew their trust toward health care in general. It’s incumbent on health care organizations and leaders to help repair and restore that relationship.” Preventing racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations is important to help mitigate the disproportionate and devastating impacts the virus has had on people of color. While this is a complex issue which will not be solved overnight, efforts to provide equitable access to vaccines are being put forth at the federal, state, and local levels. Examples of these efforts include expanding vaccine availability in underserved communities, allocating a greater quantity of vaccines to areas that have been impacted severely, and a broader vaccination communication plan. Whether or not these efforts will narrow the racial disparities in vaccination numbers remains to be seen, making it imperative that the experts continue monitoring data to gauge the effectiveness of these efforts on an ongoing basis. Get to the point: Although people of color have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are underrepresented when it comes to vaccinations. These racial disparities are due in large part to lack of access to the vaccine in underserved communities, lack of access to information, and vaccine hesitancy. It is imperative that all levels of government and the healthcare system work together to address the racial disparities present in COVID-19 vaccination numbers by expanding access and improving communications surrounding vaccine safety and efficacy. Sources:


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