States have tried with limited success getting covid vaccines to people of color who have been disproportionately killed by the virus and hospitalized.
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As of Thursday, Vermont gave black adults and people from other minorities a priority for vaccination. Although other states have made efforts to give colored vaccines, Vermont is the first to give them priority status, said Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at KFF. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the KFF.)
All black indigenous residents and other colored individuals who are permanent residents of Vermont and who are 16 years of age or older are eligible for the vaccine.
This will be a short-term benefit as Vermont is offering covid vaccinations to all adults on April 19th.
Still, Vermont health officials hope the change will lower the risk for people of color, who are almost twice as likely to end up hospitalized with Covid-19 as whites. “It is unacceptable that this inequality should persist for this population,” said Dr. Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine at a recent news conference.
Providing priority, however, may not be enough to vaccinate more minority residents – and it could send the wrong message, some health experts say.
“Giving color-priority people permission can alleviate liberal guilt, but it’s not about the real barriers to vaccination,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, Infectious Disease Specialist at NYU Langone Health and a former member of President Joe Biden’s Covid Advisory Board. “The reason for the lower vaccination rate in color communities is not just because of where they are“ in line ”for the vaccine. It is also a question of access. “
Vaccination centers need to be more convenient where these audiences live and work, and more awareness-raising efforts need to be made so people know the shots are free and safe, she said.
“If people with color are explicitly given priority for vaccination, it can lead to failure,” said Gounder. “It might give the impression that the vaccine is being introduced as a test for them first. This could increase the fear that people of color will be used as guinea pigs for something new. “
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said he was against using race as a risk factor in determining suitability for covid vaccines.
But he sees signs that vaccine hesitation is improving nationally and described Vermont’s new approach as “admirable.” Still, states should continue to use a number of options to obtain vaccines for minority communities, such as providing vaccination sites in black neighborhoods and places that residents trust, such as churches.
No state gets fairness in distributing the vaccines, KFF’s Kates said.
“People of color, whether they are black or brown, are vaccinated at lower rates than their proxy in Covid cases and deaths and often their general population,” she said.
Blacks make up about 2% of Vermont’s population and 4% of covid infections, but they have received 1% of the state’s vaccines, according to the KFF.
“Since states are really not doing well on equity, other strategies are welcome at this point,” Kates said.
However, there is another reason why public health officials have refused to give priority to people with color vaccines. “It could be politically sensitive,” she said.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces extensive journalism on health issues. Alongside Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three most important operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a foundation that provides health information to the nation.
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