Considerable scholarly analysis and media attention has documented the racially disparate impact of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Constituting 13 percent of the general population, Blacks reportedly account for 25 percent of those that have tested positive and 39 percent of the COVID-related deaths in the United States.
The over-representation of Blacks in rates of coronavirus infection and deaths is even higher in some states and cities. In Michigan, for example, Blacks make up 14 percent of the population but 40 percent of COVID-related deaths. In New Orleans, while making up less than one third of the general population, Blacks “account for almost 60 percent of the COVID-related deaths.”
Yet, we have embraced, in all likelihood unconsciously, a race blind approach to vaccine rollout, focusing primarily on two crucial variables–age and occupation—to prioritize the distribution. Strikingly, we are ignoring the critical impact of systemic racism in vulnerabilities to the deadly virus. In so doing, these race blind vaccine rollouts are not reaching the Black population that has suffered most from COVID.
In the phase one rollout, essential health care workers and adults 75 or older (recently expanded to include those 65 or older) receive priority for vaccinations. This approach would make perfect sense if our society were equitable and just, and always had been. Unfortunately, it is not. This is why there is an urgent need to create a racial equity approach to vaccine rollout.