California released figures on Monday showing the lopsided distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to date, with Black and Latino residents in the state being inoculated at significantly lower rates than other groups.
Latinos have received 15% of nearly 5m Covid-19 vaccine doses that have been administered in the state so far, according to the data, half the rate of white residents though Latinos make up the bulk of infections and deaths. Black residents have received 2.7% of the doses despite making up 6% of the state’s population.
In Los Angeles county, with 10 million residents the most populous county in the US, just 7% of Black residents 65 and older have received a first shot of the vaccine, a significantly lower rate than the 17% of white senior residents who have received at least one shot. Fourteen per cent of older Latinos have received at least one dose.
“We’re alarmed by the disproportionality we’re seeing in who has received the vaccine,” said the LA county public health director, Barbara Ferrer, on Monday.
California has prioritized seniors and healthcare workers in its vaccine distribution plan, but officials and advocates are warning that older people in communities of color are receiving the vaccine at far lower rates.
“Unfortunately, because of the history of racism and discrimination in the United States, what we see is that those community resources are not evenly allocated,” said California’s surgeon general, Dr Nadine Burke Harris. “So we do have to incentivize and pay for performance if we want to get equivalent outcomes in vulnerable communities.”
The low vaccination rates for Black and Latino residents in LA are particularly striking given that those communities have been most devastated during the pandemic.
County officials recently revealed that the average number of Latino residents dying from Covid each day has increased by more than 1,000% since November. Latinos in the region are now suffering 40 deaths per 100,000 residents each day; for Black residents, that number is 20; for Asian Americans, it’s 17; and for white residents, it’s 14, according to the LA Times.
Some Black lawmakers in LA have criticized the rollout of vaccines, arguing that officials needed to do a better job of bringing the vaccines directly to the hardest-hit communities, instead of relying on large vaccination centers that are inaccessible to certain populations. Officials are opening six new vaccine sites at clinics and pharmacies in South LA, a Black and Latino neighborhood.
“Everyone is pretending like this is going to get done in a month or two months,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, founding director of the University of California, Riverside’s Center for Social Innovation. “Now is the time to design these systems so those who are most severely impacted by Covid, in terms of cases and deaths, are those who have a fair shot at getting a shot.”
The California governor, Gavin Newsom, last week announced a federal partnership for mass vaccination sites in Oakland and east Los Angeles, saying the locations were chosen to target working-class “communities that are often left behind”.
“Not only do we want fast and efficient, but we want equitable distribution of the vaccine,” Newsom told reporters Monday in San Diego, where he hinted that a mass vaccination site would be announced soon for farm and food workers in central California.
Newsom also said a new state vaccine distribution system run by the insurer Blue Shield of California would pay providers to offer shots in vulnerable neighborhoods and communities of color.
Overwhelming demand for vaccines and short supplies can discourage people from seeking the shot, especially in communities where many are suspicious of vaccines.
Health officials said working with community groups was key to ensuring people have access to the vaccine and get it. Riverside county gave more than 600 shots during two visits to the farm-rich Coachella Valley by joining with a local group that signed people up, said Jose Arballo, a public health agency spokesman.
“We can do a million clinics,” he said, “but if they don’t want to come because they’re afraid or anxious or afraid their information is going to be used as part of immigration enforcement, they’re not going to come to us.”
In Santa Clara county, near the San Francisco Bay Area, community leaders have called on Newsom to prioritize doses for zip codes with the highest Covid-19 rates, saying vaccines are going to wealthier people with internet access and time on their hands.
“Our message to the governor is simple: prioritize communities that have been hit the hardest by this pandemic. That would be a commitment to equity,” said Jessica Paz-Cedillos, executive director of the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, which is in one of five Santa Clara county zip codes where the infection rate is double the countywide average.