COVID-19 vaccinations must be distributed equitably across race

Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., Dec. 14, 2020. (Image by Lisa Ferdinando)

By Krysti Shore, staff writer

Since the distribution of vaccines began on Dec. 14, 2020, 148 million doses have been administered across the country, but statistics have raised concerns regarding deficiencies among the equality of its distribution among different races. It is evident and disappointing that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the lives of some, but in an area like Sonoma County that advocates impartiality, citizens expect nothing more than fairness represented in the vaccination process.

According to Kaiser’s Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, as of March 29, 2021, of the vaccines distributed in California, 35 percent went to white citizens, 22 percent went to Hispanic citizens, three percent went to Black citizens, 14 percent went to Asian citizens, and two percent went to Native American or Alaska Native citizens. It’s become a recurring pattern among certain states that those of an ethnicity other than white have received a sufficiently lower amount of vaccinations in comparison to their number of cases and deaths as well as their overall population. For example, In Arizona, 13 percent of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people, but they make up 36 percent of cases and 31 percent of deaths in comparison to the 32 percent of the total population that they account for. In Maryland, Black people have received 17 percent of vaccines, while they make up 33 percent of cases, 35 percent of deaths, and account for 30 percent of the total population in the state, as analyzed in KFF’s data. 

Luckily, Sonoma County’s statistics seem to be at least slightly more equitable. Out of the 185,177 doses that have been distributed to Sonoma County citizens, 19 percent of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic/Latino citizens while they make up 27.3 percent of the population, 61 percent of  vaccines have gone to White citizens while they make up 62.9 percent of the population, 3 percent of vaccines have gone to Asian citizens while they account for 4.3 percent of the population, one percent of vaccines have gone to African American citizens in comparison to the 1.6 percent of the population they make up, 15 percent of vaccines have gone to multi-racial citizens while they make up 2.9 percent, one percent of vaccines have gone to Native American/Alaska Native citizens while they make up 0.7 percent, and zero percent of the vaccine has gone to Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders while they make up 0.3 percent. Effective March 7, the non-profit insurer Blue Shield became California’s primary vaccination administrator, and even though there were worries of setback, under state contract, the company has agreed to ensure shots be administered in a fairly equitable fashion.

Not only is unequal distribution among ethnicity an issue, but according to the Press Democrat’s analysis of rates by zip code, there is disparity between wealthy neighborhoods and more economically disadvantaged neighborhoods who received vaccines in Sonoma County. The piece reads, “The lowest economic quartile in Sonoma County has received 20 percent of the doses thus far, a share that climbs to 23 percent, 26 percent and 31 percent for successively better-off populations.” 

“I think we need to recommit ourselves to providing access to the vaccine for groups that are disproportionately impacted by COVID, low-income communities in particular,” said Pedro Toledo, chief administrative officer of Petaluma Health Center. This gap is exactly why the State of California added an equity metric to its vaccine campaign on March 4, 2021. Before this, the lowest quartile communities were shockingly receiving 16 percent to 17 percent of the overall vaccine supply, in comparison to 34 percent reserved for the highest quartile. It is very unfair and quite illogical that those living in more crowded spaces and working essential on-site jobs are being neglected when they stand at a much higher risk of contracting and spreading the deadly virus. 

To address the problem, the state started setting aside 40 percent of all vaccines for California’s poorest ZIP codes, and luckily, the gap has narrowed a bit as a result. Nineteen percent of all doses have now gone to the lowest quartile and 30.7 percent to the highest.

Overall, the previous vaccination distribution in Sonoma County seemed to have deficiencies, but more awareness raised on the issue has led more to address the problem and come up with further plans to eliminate it.

But there is still work to be done. We need to be firm in our expectation that Blue Shield keeps their promise, devoting its efforts towards establishing equal distribution among all counties in California, and if they don’t, we need to hold those in leadership accountable.

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