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Jan. 16, 2022, 10:38 a.m. EST

People of color have been less likely than their white counterparts to get a COVID-19 vaccine — but that is finally changing

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By Quentin Fottrell

Despite early challenges to COVID-19 vaccine access and uptake, some things have gradually changed for the better.

“Black and Hispanic people have been less likely than their white counterparts to receive a vaccine, but these disparities have narrowed over time, particularly for Hispanic people,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation , a healthcare think tank. “White people account for the largest share of people who remain unvaccinated.”

The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data reported that race/ethnicity was known for 74% of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Across 42 states covered by the CDC, 60% of white and Hispanic people had gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Jan. 10, 2022, still higher than the rate for Black people (54%). 

White and Black people made up smaller shares of those receiving at least one dose of the vaccine compared to their respective shares of the overall U.S. population, while the shares of vaccinated people identifying with Hispanic/Latino, American Indian or Alaska Native, and “multiple/other” race or ethnicity all surpassed their shares of the overall population, according to the CDC data.

“Significant gaps in data remain to help understand who is and is not getting vaccinated. To date, CDC is not publicly reporting state-level data on the racial/ethnic composition of people vaccinated,” KFF said. The CDC also is not reporting racial/ethnic vaccination data for children, and racial/ethnic data for boosters is limited to those 65 and older, it added.

“With booster shot eligibility expanded to all individuals ages 12 and older and children ages 5-11 eligible for vaccination, ensuring equity in the uptake of booster shots and vaccinations among children is also important,” KFF added. As of Jan. 10, 2022, 26.3% of children ages 5-11 and 64.3% of children ages 12-17 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. 

The two-shot mRNA-based vaccines made by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.31% with German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +0.26% , and Moderna  /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -1.34% make up the majority of shots in the U.S. Less than 63% of the population is fully vaccinated, and only 37.5% have boosters. Last week, Moderna CEO Stephane Bance said that people may require a fourth booster, as the dose likely loses its effectiveness over time.

‘High vulnerability’

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted minority groups. Other factors limiting access to vaccines include technological resources for navigating online scheduling systems; less flexibility in work and caregiving schedules to be able to search for appointments or take whatever appointment might be available; and limited transportation options restricting the range of viable vaccination locations.

The rate of change in vaccination coverage was lower in “high-vulnerability” California counties compared to moderate- and low-vulnerability counties, as measured by the Social Vulnerability Index, a separate study this week found. The index, created by the CDC, looks at socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, minority status and language, and housing and transportation.

Published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health , the peer-reviewed study found that ​​minority status and English-speaking ability were key factors in reducing access to COVID-19 vaccines, highlighting the need for more outreach. “COVID-19 disparities among vulnerable populations are of paramount concern that extend to vaccine administration,” the study said.

“In other words, counties with more racial/ethnic minority residents, and with a higher concentration of people whose English is less fluent, had a slower rise in the number of vaccinations taking place,” said co-author Alexander Bruckhaus. In March 2021, California invested more in public education around the vaccine, and high-vulnerable counties began to see a higher vaccination rate, he added.

Bruckhaus, a research fellow at the University of Southern California, and his fellow scientists analyzed vaccination data between December 2020 and May 2021. Since then the omicron variant has blazed a trail across the U.S., putting pressure on hospitals. Intensive care units nationally have an 80% occupancy rate, according to the New York Times tracker , but many hospitals are at full or near-full capacity.  

Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson, economists with the Economic Policy Institute, wrote that Black workers face two of “the most lethal preexisting conditions for coronavirus — racism and economic inequality.” Persistent racial disparities in access to health care, wealth, employment, housing, income, among other factors, they said, “all contribute to greater susceptibility to the virus.”

(Meera Jagannathan contributed to this story.)

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