At Briefing, Experts Warn Disparities in Vaccinations Could Put Pandemic Recovery at Risk
Washington, D.C. (February 19, 2021) — Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn, held a video briefing on ensuring equity in coronavirus vaccinations. Data shows that communities of color, low-income communities, and rural communities have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus, but were severely disadvantaged during the early vaccine rollout.
Chairman Clyburn stated in his opening remarks:
“As we work to vaccinate all Americans, we must ensure that the communities hit hardest by the virus have equitable access to the vaccine and are being vaccinated at equitable rates. Failure to achieve vaccination equity would not only compound the suffering in these communities, but would also delay or even derail containment of the virus across the country, which could hinder a safe return to normal life for everyone.”
Chairman Clyburn praised the Biden Administration for working to resolve these inequities by increasing vaccine doses and called on Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan, which provides billions of dollars for a national vaccination campaign.
Dr. Helene D. Gayle, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Chicago Community Trust told the Select Subcommittee:
“Putting equity at the core of the vaccine rollout is not only the fair thing to do and the right thing to do—it is also the smart thing to do. The best way to control the pandemic and to set us on a course to an equitable economic recovery is to get the vaccines to where they are most needed, and to where the pandemic has had its greatest impact. It is sound public health policy to serve the populations most at risk because that is where we will have the greatest impact.”
Other briefers included Abigail Echo-Hawk, Director of the Urban Indian Health Institute and Chief Research Officer of the Seattle Indian Health Board; Frankie Miranda, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Hispanic Federation; and Lathran Woodward, Chief Executive Officer of the South Carolina Primary Health Care Association. Briefers provided the following additional information:
The Trump Administration’s failure to plan for vaccine distribution increased risks to vulnerable populations and jeopardized the nation’s recovery.
- Experts stated that low vaccination rates among hard-hit groups was caused in part by the previous Administration’s failure to plan for vaccine distribution last year. Asked by Rep. Carolyn Maloney if more could have been done by the Trump Administration to prepare for vaccine distribution, Ms. Echo-Hawk stated, “Absolutely, yes.” She added that the previous Administration had failed to provide other critical supplies to protect vulnerable communities from coronavirus infection, noting, “We received a box of body bags instead of the materials we need.”
We must address barriers to vaccinations faced by communities of color, low-income communities, and rural communities.
- Mr. Miranda explained: “Barriers to access include language, lack of transportation, and availability of things people take for granted like having internet or even an email account. We need targeted programs that provide vaccination teams to go into communities where hard to reach populations live and work.”
- Dr. Gayle explained: “Unless all of us are safe and all of us are fully vaccinated then none of us is safe. And so I think it is critical that here in the United States we really focus on making sure that people who are most at risk, who have borne the greatest brunt of this, get vaccinated as quickly as possible because that’s how we’re going to drive the numbers down.”
Community health providers need more resources to vaccinate vulnerable communities.
- Mr. Miranda explained, “We must unleash our communities’ greatest assets, which are our community-based organizations, and in order to do that we must allocate significant funding to our community-based non-profits.”
- Ms. Echo Hawk described her organization’s experience in vaccinating the community’s elderly population, saying, “[W]e’re doing that with scarce resources. If we had more providers, we could be doing more in clinic and we could be reaching those most in need. And so we absolutely lack the resources.”
More outreach and education are needed to combat vaccine hesitancy and misinformation in communities across the United States.
- Briefers called for a nationwide education campaign as well as culturally appropriate strategies and trusted messengers in specific communities. Ms. Woodard explained, “All rural communities are not the same. They are rural and they have some issues, but they are not the same. You have got to deal with the culture in that community and who they listen to.”
- Mr. Miranda said that Latino communities in the United States have been targeted by misinformation and fraud relating to vaccines. He said that community-based non-profit organizations “have the cultural competence to educate and combat the rampant misinformation, distrust, and now fraud preying on Latino communities.”
Inadequate data on race and ethnicity must be addressed to ensure equitable vaccine access.
- Ms. Echo-Hawk said, “Policymakers cannot make data-driven decisions without good data. Right now, I’m a scientist who is unable to do good science.”
- Dr. Gayle also emphasized the importance of collecting race and ethnicity data on vaccinations, saying, “Not having the data is like trying to fly a plane blind. You need to know where you are and where you want to go, so having the data is critically important.”
Briefers praised President Biden’s national vaccine strategy and called for passage of the American Rescue Plan.
- Dr. Gayle, who co-authored a national framework for coronavirus vaccine equity, praised President Biden’s national strategy, noting, “there are some greater systems being put in place.” She added that she is “pleased to see legislation moving through Congress to allocate resources towards the new Administration's American Rescue Plan for a national vaccine program, expanding testing, direct investment in community health centers, and a robust public health jobs program.”