Jeramey Jannene

Barrett Seeks to Reverse Racial Disparity for Vaccines

Majority of vaccine doses have gone to white, young Milwaukee County residents.

By - Jan 18th, 2021 04:50 pm
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. photo by Lisa Ferdinando. U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. photo by Lisa Ferdinando. U.S. Secretary of Defense, (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

The Milwaukee Health Department continues to scale up its COVID-19 vaccine delivery effort.

Through the end of last week, the city was able to use 900 delivered doses to provide 1,016 shots. The surplus shots come from vials that are overfilled, a trend that is being reported nationally with the Pfizer vaccine.

With 3,000 doses expected to arrive this week, Mayor Tom Barrett hopes the city can vaccinate up to 3,600 people. The city is asking for 5,000 doses next week. Health care providers in Milwaukee are receiving doses as well.

But while there is good news that a surplus of vaccine is arriving, there is concern about how equitable the distribution has been.

“As we looked at the data from last week, one thing jumped out at me. We did not have the diversity that I think reflected the City of Milwaukee’s population,” said Barrett during a Monday afternoon press briefing.

Of 21,728 doses reported to be administered in Milwaukee County as of January 14th, only 1,310 went to individuals identifying as Black and 1,060 to individuals identifying as Hispanic or Latino. The largest group being vaccinated is 25-to-34-year-old, white residents. Over half of the doses have gone to people under 45 years old.

If the shots were distributed purely on a racial or ethnic basis, four out of every 10 shots (approximately 8,700 total) would have gone to Black, Hispanic or Latino county residents.

A large part of the disparity is likely due to the groups of individuals that are currently eligible for the vaccine. Health care workers form the majority of the 1A group.

Barrett has a request for a targeted population he would like to ensure gets vaccinated to balance things out.

“I want to make a special request for individuals and agencies that are involved in home health care to make sure that you are getting your workers vaccinated,” said the mayor. “They are far more likely to be people that live in this city, that are people of color.”

Agencies and eligible workers without direct access to the vaccine can register on HealthyMKE.com. Providers with excess doses, such as the city, will then call on those individuals to provide them with the vaccine.

“HealthyMKE.com is our matchmaker,” said Barrett, noting that updates should come within hours.

“From a public policy standpoint, it makes all the sense in the world that our home health care workers are included in this first group,” he said.

The State of Wisconsin will issue final guidance on the 1B group in the coming days. The second phase will allow for an expanded group of people to be vaccinated, but state officials have raised concern that a shortage from the federal supply of vaccines could hamper local efforts.

Barrett said the city continues to scale up its facility at the Wisconsin Center, but it is still is not open to the general public. The majority of people being vaccinated are eligible city employees, with excess doses going to individuals reached through the HealthyMKE.com website.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services, via its COVID-19 dashboard, reports that 35,924 people in the state have received both doses of the vaccine as of January 14th.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said that 35,924 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine, that was the total for people that have received both doses of the vaccine.

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Categories: Health

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