Black, Latino Californians Given 20% Of State's COVID Vaccines, But Make Up 42% of Population

Equity is an issue for California's COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, with white Californians receiving shots ahead of Black and Latino communities that make up large portions of the state's population.

African Americans have received 3 percent of vaccine doses while they make up 6 percent of the state, according to the Associated Press. Latinos, who make up 39 percent of the state, have received 17 percent of doses. The vaccination gap is much narrower for white Californians, who make up 36 percent of the state's population. State health data shows that 32 percent of white people in the state have already received shots.

The racial disparity in the number of vaccinates delivered matters because Black and Latino communities in the state are already more vulnerable to infection and death. According to state health data, Black people in California have had the highest COVID-19 death rates, and the Los Angeles Times reported that Latino Californians die from COVID-19 at a rate three times greater than white people.

State and federal leaders have reiterated equity is an issue to delivering vaccines to communities at the highest risk of infection and death. In a CNN Town Hall with Anderson Cooper on Feb. 16, President Joe Biden cited that he's delivered doses to over 6,700 pharmacies to increase access and is funneling billions of dollars to public education to show people "how to get online" for vaccine appointments. He added he agreed to send "a million doses" to community centers in "the toughest of the toughest neighborhoods in terms of illness."

California Governor Gavin Newsom has similarly vocalized that vaccine access for minorities is a priority in the state's vaccination procedure, saying to reporters the state needs to "do more and do better" at a vaccination site in Inglewood, California last week.

"Awareness" is one of the biggest issues, according to State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). Bradford joined Newsom on his recent visit to the vaccine site.

"Three hundred people were in line. Five of them were African American. People were from Rolling Hills, Beverly Hills. How did they get the word out?" Bradford told the Los Angeles Times. "They seemed to know more than we do, so we have to do a better job of getting the word out."

Vaccine skepticism also runs high in the Black community, The Washington Post reported. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 43 percent of Black adults say they plan to "wait and see until it has been available for a while, to see how it is working for other people."

Dr. Anthony Fauci has worked to reverse hesitancy among Black people, saying in a recent interview that "It would be really tragic . . . if a demographic group that has already suffered disproportionately from this terrible pandemic should — for reasons that are understandable but unfortunate — feel that they don't want to take the one tool that can prevent them from getting infected, from getting sick, and from dying."

Gavin Newsom
California's vaccine rollout has left Black and Latino communities behind white communities, despite the significant impact of the virus on people of color. Doctor Jerry Abraham (L) and California Governor Gavin Newsom (C) talk to a person that got inoculated with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site at Kedren Community Health Center, in South Central Los Angeles, California on February 16, 2021. APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from Newsweek's Jack Dutton, see below.

Fauci recently told Newsweek that Black Americans are not being failed by the coronavirus vaccine rollout, and the Biden administration is taking significant steps to get Black people inoculated.

This was in response to questions about a poll which indicates a large number of Black Americans are skeptical about taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

A poll released by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research on February 10 found that hesitancy around the vaccine was more prominent among Black Americans compared with other ethnicities.

Asked about the poll, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House's chief medical adviser, said that the vaccine rollout wasn't failing African-Americans.

"I don't think you could say that it's failing African Americans. We have a situation in the United States that is historic. We are trying our best and, in some respects, succeeding because we're putting a lot of effort into reaching out to the African American community," he told Newsweek.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Newsom has repeatedly called equity his "North Star" for vaccinating a diverse state of nearly 40 million. He partnered with the federal government to set up mass vaccination sites in working-class neighborhoods in Oakland and Los Angeles. And it's a big part of why he tasked insurer Blue Shield with centralizing California's patchwork vaccine system, asking the hospital chain Kaiser Permanente to assist.

Yet officials at community health centers that serve as the safety net for the poor in the U.S., focused on health equity, say they are not receiving enough doses for their patients — the very at-risk residents the state needs to vaccinate.

In California, nearly 1,400 such centers offer free or low-cost services to about 7 million people, many in communities with a higher concentration of low-income families and few providers who take Medicaid, which is known in California as Medi-Cal. Many of their clients speak a language other than English, work long hours, lack transportation and want to go to the medical care professionals they trust.

Dr. Efrain Talamantes, chief operating officer for AltaMed Health Services, said it was disheartening to watch initial doses go elsewhere while his patients continued to test positive for the virus.

"There is a clear disparity every single time there's a resource that's limited," he said.

Most states are grasping for ways to distribute limited vaccine supply, resulting in a hodgepodge of methods in the absence of a federal plan. Tennessee is among the states dispensing doses based on county populations, while California allocates them by eligible groups including teachers and farmworkers. The free-for-all has allowed people with the most resources to score scarce vaccinations.

Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, said it seems obvious that the best strategy to get vaccines to hard-hit communities is to turn to the places where residents already get care. But big-box administrators tend to think of community health centers as less efficient because of their smaller size, she said.

"We're not very imaginative in the way we deliver vaccine efficiently. Our only creative solutions are to build mass vaccination sites, and maybe give people preferential access to those sites," she said.

Blue Shield officials say they plan to keep open health centers that are already administering vaccines, but the clinics worry they won't get enough doses.

Community health centers have worked hard to persuade their patients to take the shot, said Alexander Rossel, chief executive of Families Together of Orange County, adding his center has inoculated 95 percent of its patients age 65 and over.

Health centers watched in dismay as vaccine for health care workers initially went to larger hospitals in December. Then they watched as more affluent, internet-savvy English speakers with time to navigate web portals and drive long distances for appointments flocked to inoculation arenas.

When Orange County started opening large-scale vaccination sites in mid-January, community health centers asked for doses too, said Isabel Becerra, chief executive of the Coalition of Orange County Community Health Centers.

"We don't have transportation. We don't speak English. We don't understand the technology you're asking us to use to register and get in line. So, can we vaccinate the 65 and older population in the comfort of their own facilities?" she said.