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White Americans Are Getting COVID-19 Vaccines at Higher Rates Than Minorities, Early Data Suggest

3 minute read

Across the U.S., people of color have been contracting and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than white people throughout the pandemic. Now, preliminary vaccine rollout data suggest another disturbing pattern: Minorities are getting vaccinated at lower rates than white people.

Currently, 23 states publish vaccination statistics broken out by race. After analyzing those data, KFF, a health policy and research organization, found that people of color are getting smaller shares of vaccinations as compared to their share of the population. In Virginia, for instance, Black people represent 19% of residents (and account for 21% of the state’s COVID-19 cases and 24% of its deaths), but Black Virginians have received only 12% of vaccines administered in the state so far.

The chart below indicates that this trend exists across many states. The dots closest to the center of the grid are the groups of people whose COVID-19 case rates and vaccination rates are about the same as their share of the state population. Away from the center are groups of people whose case rates and vaccination rates are either overrepresented (positive numbers) or underrepresented (negative numbers). Groups who have reported an outsized number of cases but an undersized number of vaccinations appear in the top-left quadrant.

The KFF analysis comes with a host of disclaimers. For instance, states are inconsistent in how they report vaccinations, which could lead to problems like double reporting people who received both doses of the two-shot Pifzer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. States also vary in whether hispanic ethnicity is included or excluded in racial categories and whether individuals can identify as multiple races; that makes for an inexact science when comparing to population metrics that use exclusive race categories. And most states are publishing only partial data on race—it’s not unusual for a state to have “other” or “unknown race” for half of all the vaccinations it has recorded. (For its analysis, KFF recalculated state data to assess only known race data.)

Furthermore, it’s not possible to rank or compare states, because each state has its own data sausage recipe—some use one race-classification system for vaccinations and another for disease tracking. And there are different levels of incompleteness. Pennsylvania, for instance, excludes Philadelphia County because it uses different reporting methodologies. And some states exclude vaccinations that were administered through a federal program that targets long-term care facilities.

On a national scale, the vaccination data lapses are so rampant that public health experts say it’s difficult to truly assess the scope of the inequality. After all, fewer than half the states even take a crack at reporting race data. Lacking this insight will make it harder to distribute limited vaccine supplies equitably and implement necessary outreach programs to underserved communities.

Still, even with the little available data, we can see that a picture of the vaccination rollout is starting to take shape—and it doesn’t look good. Every dot on the above chart carries caveats and isn’t perfectly reliable on its own. But taken together, they should be a warning that the hardest hit people are already getting left behind.

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