TAMPA, Fla. - The data is clear. COVID-19 is hitting communities of color the hardest, with Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans bearing an unequal burden, dying at higher rates, and lagging in vaccination numbers.
"Compared with white people, American Indians and Alaska native persons are 3.6 times more likely to be hospitalized, while Latino persons are 3.2-times more likely, and Black people 2.9-times more likely to require hospitalization," said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the COVID-19 Equity Task Force Chair.
Experts say there are multiple factors and systemic challenges at play.
"It goes into the long history of disproportionality amongst the socioeconomic access that Blacks, browns and Native Americans have endured," explained Work Care Associate Medical Director Dr. Anthony Harris. "And if we look at access to healthcare in those communities, we know that many of the associated things we take for granted in other communities are just not there, the infrastructure, the number of people living impoverished in those communities far greater."
There is also increased exposure to the virus due to jobs, transportation, and lack of childcare. Disparities that appear to be translating into a lack of coronavirus vaccinations in these same communities.
Experts say mistrust and hesitancy toward the shot may be partially responsible, however, access to the vaccine and outreach is also struggling.
"It’s a systemic as well as infrastructure issue and that’s why we have to pay special attention and come up with creative ways of accessing these communities and getting them the resources that we know they need to help prevent the burden of illness," said Harris.
The Biden administration has pledged an increased focus on equitable distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, but a lack of data is holding it back. According to officials, as of January 30, 47% of race and ethnicity information about whose arms the shots are going into is missing.
"I’m worried about how behind we are," Nunez-Smith said. "We must address these insufficient data points as an urgent priority."