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Promoting Equity and Reducing Disparities in COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By the Center for Public Policy at VCU Wilder School
April 1, 2021

Disparities in Vaccination Efforts

Black and brown communities have been disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, reporting higher numbers of cases and higher death rates than white communities. Despite being more negatively impacted by the coronavirus, however, these high-burden communities are less likely to receive a COVID-19 vaccination when compared with white communities. These lower rates are due to multiple factors, including a lack of vaccine availability, an inability to access vaccines even if they are available and vaccine hesitancy.

While efforts are being made to mitigate disparities, the problem remains a significant one. In Virginia, for example, 70% of vaccines have been administered to white people. Only 14% have been administered to Black people, 6% to Hispanics and 4% to Asians. However, the data also reveal that white people represent only 52% of COVID-19 cases in Virginia, while Black people represent 22%, Hispanics represent 17%, and Asians represent 7%.  Although white people have received an overwhelming percent of administered vaccines, they did not represent as large a share of actual COVID-19 cases.

As part of its mission to advance racial justice and social equity within the commonwealth of Virginia and beyond, the Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) at the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU is working to embed equity in vaccine distribution and to help reduce vaccine hesitancy. Below are key findings that have resulted from these efforts, and recommendations for how communities should promote equity and reduce vaccine hesitancy in their vaccination efforts.

Let’s first consider the root causes of these disparities: systemic racism and structural inequities. Communities of color often face barriers such as a lack of transportation, language barriers and connectivity challenges (e.g. not having internet at home) that white communities do not. In addition, the nation’s long history of racism and discrimination has led many to distrust government officials and healthcare providers, thus leading to uncertainties about whether the vaccine is safe.

Promising Solutions

What can be done to help make vaccines more accessible to communities of color? In addition to ensuring that vaccines are distributed equitably within states (i.e., ensuring that areas with large minority populations also receive a large share of the state’s vaccines), steps that have been proven successful include:

  • Making efforts to more directly reach at-risk communities, such as setting up mobile vaccination clinics rather than requiring people to go to an unfamiliar location.
  • Reducing connectivity challenges and creating alternatives to online registration systems, such as door-to-door registration initiatives or on-site registration.
  • Working with local community leaders to help show others in the community that getting vaccinated is a good decision.
  • Offering information about the vaccine through a community-based outreach strategy (e.g. across social media platforms) in multiple languages.
  • Working to create a snowball effect or a strategy to get out the word to ensure that those vaccinated will lead to others getting vaccinated, as data indicate that having a household member, close friend or family member who has been vaccinated tends to increase one’s own willingness to get vaccinated.
  • Eliminating requirements to show documentation upon check-in for vaccination events, particularly in areas with large numbers of migrant workers.

Finally, those working to reduce disparities must remember to take the time to plan for equity. While some efforts focus on getting people vaccinated as quickly as possible, a sole focus on speed oftentimes leaves out communities of color as barriers to vaccination are not addressed.

Signs of Improvement

Fortunately, it seems that these efforts to reduce disparities are beginning to pay off. According to the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll, a statewide survey of adult Virginians conducted multiple times per year, vaccine hesitancy in Virginia is decreasing. Between the September 2020 poll and the January 2021 poll, the number of Virginians who said that they would be likely to get an FDA-approved vaccine increased from 58% to 71%. For racial minorities specifically, those saying they were likely to get a vaccine increased from 62% to 73%.

Nationwide data follows a similar trend. As of February 2021, 55% of people said that they had already been vaccinated or would get vaccinated as soon as possible (compared to only 34% in December 2020). The trend held for racial minorities; between December 2020 and February 2021, the number of individuals saying that they had been vaccinated or would get vaccinated as soon as possible increased by 21% for Blacks (20% to 41%) and 26% for Hispanics (26% to 52%).

Looking ahead

While the trends are promising, disparities continue. As we look to the future, we as a nation must work harder to ensure that communities of color are not left behind in vaccination efforts. Through efforts from RISE and others working to embed equity in vaccine distribution, we can help ensure that communities of color have equitable access to vaccinations and that all communities can begin to see an end to the pandemic.

Author: The Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy advances research and training that informs public policy and decisionmaking to improve our communities. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, we provide services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in governments, nonprofits, businesses and the public, across Virginia and beyond. Twitter: @CPPatVCU

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