April is recognized annually by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as National Minority Health Month. The HHS has announced that the theme of National Minority Health Month 2021 is #VaccineReady, which was selected to promote awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine and the ways in which the pandemic has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority communities.¹
In order to lessen the pronounced gap between communities that most need the vaccine and those that actually receive it, it is necessary to address racial disparities that persist amidst the pandemic. What do we know about the recent vaccine rollout and how disparate vaccination access has been, and what have some states been doing to combat this inequality?
Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccine Shares
To analyze potential disparities in who is receiving COVID-19 vaccines compared to cases and deaths, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) used state-reported data and demographic data gathered by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from March 1, 2021 through April 6, 2021.² The CDC found that, among Americans who had received at least 1 dose of the vaccine, 65% were White, 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, 5% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and fewer than 1% were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The remaining 9% were reported as multiracial or other.
The research found that in many states, Black and Hispanic people were not getting a proportionate share of vaccines compared to the significant number of cases and deaths they comprised. In the District of Columbia, for example, Black people have received 37% of the vaccines given out despite comprising 49% of COVID-19 cases and 69% of COVID-related deaths in the area. In Pennsylvania, Black people comprised 11% of the population, 14% of COVID-19 cases, and 12% of deaths, but have received just 4% of the state’s vaccine share.
Hispanic people in many states have also struggled to get a vaccine even though their risk for COVID-19 is greater. For example, in California, Hispanic people account for only 23% of vaccinations despite representing 55% of the state’s cases, 40% of its deaths, and 40% of the population. Similarly, just 6% of Massachusetts’ vaccine share has gone to Hispanic people, yet they’ve comprised 28% of the state’s cases. Meanwhile, though they make up 36% of Nevada’s COVID-19 cases (as well as 26% of their COVID-19 deaths and 29% of the state population), Hispanic individuals have received only 16% of the state’s vaccine share.
While more data will be gathered as the vaccine rollout continues, the current data overwhelmingly suggest that more effort is needed in making COVID-19 vaccines more accessible to those communities that are more vulnerable.
What Are States Doing About It?
In March, the CDC released a study based on data gathered from December 14, 2020 to March 1, 2021 to assess US vaccination coverage and its relationship to social vulnerability.³ While the researchers found that many states had lower vaccination coverage in their more vulnerable counties, Arizona and Montana each reported higher vaccination coverage in what the CDC deemed their high-vulnerability counties. Researchers commend the 2 states’ practices but suggest that more investigation is needed to explore their methodology, which included directing vaccines to vulnerable communities, offering free transportation to vaccination sites, actively monitoring barriers in these communities, and collaborating with community partners and organizations.
The KFF researchers concluded that more work needs to be done to get vaccines to vulnerable populations as the supply increases, and they suggest that local officials continue to monitor their social vulnerability index levels in relation to vaccination coverage.
KFF also recently examined how some states intend to address the racial disparity.⁴ They found that 19 states had set up call centers and text-messaging options for those who were unable to use online services for vaccine appointment scheduling. They also found that Tennessee was focusing particularly on rural and underserved populations as they partnered with pharmacies to add over 100 vaccination sites. Initiatives such as these can serve as good models for other states looking to address racial disparity and other inequities amidst a global pandemic.
- National Minority Health Month. US Department of Health and Human Services Office of MInority Health. https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/Content.aspx?ID=21522&lvl=2&lvlid=12. Updated April 5, 2021. Accessed April 14, 2021.
- Latest data on COVID-19 vaccinations race/ethnicity. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/latest-data-on-covid-19-vaccinations-race-ethnicity/. Published April 7, 2021. Accessed April 14, 2021.
- Hughes MM, Wang A, Grossman MK, et al. County-level COVID-19 vaccination coverage and social vulnerability — United States, December 14, 2020–March 1, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:431–436. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7012e1
- How are states addressing racial equity in COVID-19 vaccine efforts? Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/how-are-states-addressing-racial-equity-in-covid-19-vaccine-efforts/. Published March 10, 2021. Accessed April 14, 2021.