Vaccine Distribution Shows Racial Inequity
Data shows stark disparities. State spending $6.1 million to improve racial and ethnic vaccine equity.
The equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has been an issue of concern since before the first shots arrived in Wisconsin.
Last week, the Department of Health Services (DHS) released data with a breakdown, by race and ethnicity, of who is receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The data showed that the administration of vaccine is not occurring equally among racial and ethnic groups.
The data released shows that, to date, approximately 11.5% of the state’s white population has received at least one shot. Meanwhile, just 8.1% of American Indian residents, 5.3% of Asian residents, 3.3% of Black residents and 3.3% of Hispanic residents have received the vaccine.
Given the limited scope of vaccine eligibility, officials have suggested that some of the disparity is due in part to the racial and ethnic makeup of frontline health care workers — who were the first to begin receiving the vaccine. They are also proposing to address the problem by bringing the vaccine directly into minority communities that have received an inequitable level of doses.
The makeup of eligible groups in the first phase has also been pointed to as a leading cause of disparities in the rate of vaccination between various counties and municipalities around the state.
City of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, for example, said during a recent press briefing that most of the hospital systems in Milwaukee County have most of their presence outside of the city, and that a significant number of those health care workers also live outside of the city.
“So right coming out of the gate, I felt that we were entering into a situation where this was gonna put the city at a disadvantage,” Barrett said. “But it’s my hope and continues to be my hope that this would be rectified in other areas.”
On Monday, DHS announced it would allocate $6.1 million into a vaccine communications campaign and community-based organizations already working on vaccine administration.
In Milwaukee, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic residents, relative to their share of the county’s population. It’s a trend that has appeared in many communities across the country.
The latest data on COVID-19 in the county shows that Hispanic residents have the highest rate of infection of any other racial or ethnic group in the county. Black county residents have had the highest rate of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 for nearly the entire pandemic. Black residents continue to make up a disproportionate number of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in the county, and, along with the American Indian and Alaskan Native population, Black residents currently have some of the highest rates of hospitalization in the county.
Governor Tony Evers said in a statement that with the $6.1 million investment into outreach and coordination for “racially and geographically diverse populations” the state is “better able to protect our communities that have been hit hardest by COVID-19.”
County Executive David Crowley, noting the disparity at a press briefing, saying “We have to… make sure that those at the federal level and state level understand that there are people of color who are not getting access to health.”
“We’ve constantly talked about the vaccine hesitation,” Crowley said. “But also the fact that we haven’t been equitably distributing the vaccine.”
The county executive said the unequal distribution is mirroring the historical pattern “of underserved communities not having equitable access to not just healthcare, but, whether we’re talking about education or housing as well.”
Before the state announced the $6.1 million investment, the Milwaukee Health Department announced it was setting up mobile vaccination teams to go out into communities to perform vaccinations. The state, too, has launched mobile vaccination teams — dispatching them around the state. At the briefing last week, Barrett said, “I think clearly, clearly what we have to do is get the distribution into the neighborhoods.”
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