Equity remains a concern as vaccine distribution ramps up

As COVID-19 vaccination distribution accelerates in California and nationwide, equity remains a concern. "The numbers show that African-Americans and Latinos are getting vaccinated at a lower rate, relative to them being in the state population," said Dr. Oliver Brooks, the chair of the state's vaccine drafting guildelines workgroup. The panel of medical experts offer recommendations for who should get a vaccine and when.

The California Department of Public Health began releasing data related to the race and ethnicity of vaccine recipients. The latest numbers show: 

  • White: 32.7%
  • Latino: 16%
  • Asian: 13%
  • Black: 2.9%
  • Native American: 0.3%

"Age is the biggest factor driving deaths from coronavirus infection, but even in those older age populations, we’re seeing a really big gap in who’s getting vaccinated," said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist and vice dean for population health and health equity. 

Dr. Brooks and Dr. Bibbins-Domingo discussed how to ensure shots reach the most impacted communities. Both agreed opening vaccination sites in underserved areas like the Oakland Coliseum is a good step. But, after vaccine codes meant for Black and Latino communities were recently misused, the doctors said there's still much work to do, and it starts with outreach. "We need to make sure people have the information," said Dr. Bibbin-Domingo.  "That the digital access is not a reason why people don’t know where to get a vaccination, things like transportation."

"There need to be provisions made for example, a lot of African-Americans work where they don’t have sick leave, where they can’t get off of work," said Dr. Brooks. "They’re essential workers."

As distribution moves into Phase 1B in many areas, Dr. Brooks is confident the race metrics will improve. "I believe that we’re moving in the right direction. There will be more vaccine, there’ll be more equitable vaccine distribution."

Dr. Bibbins-Domingo said it's incumbent on leaders to address what caused those disparities to begin with. "If we are going to have a future: a healthy robust society, a healthy robust workforce, a healthy and just society, we’re going to have to pay attention to these stark inequities."