In the 1970s, epidemiologist Sherman James described the phenomenon of “John Henryism,” whereby Black Americans must invest immense effort to cope with the chronic stress of racism, leading to poor health and early death.

That’s still the case today, especially during the pandemic. In the first half of 2020, Black Americans’ life expectancy declined almost three years to an average of 72 years, compared with a loss of almost one year for White Americans (now 78 years). Meanwhile, Black Americans are not only twice as likely to die of covid-19 as White Americans but also dying at rates similar to those of White Americans who are 10 years older. Moreover, racial inequities are most striking at younger ages; for example, Black people ages 45 to 54 are seven times more likely to die of covid-19 than similarly aged White Americans.

Why, then, are Black Americans subject to the same age cutoff for vaccination prioritization?