About those racial disparities in vaccination rates

A growing collection of data on vaccination rates suggests significant disparities along racial lines in terms of how quickly different communities are being immunized. With that in mind, let’s get the unavoidable question out of the way first. Why is racism so prevalent in Joe Biden’s America? (Hey… they did it for four years. Turnabout is fair play.)

It’s hard to deny there is definitely some lag in the system, even with much of the data being incomplete. That’s because not all contact tracing stations and vaccination centers are collecting racial data. But as the Associated Press reports this weekend, for the places where such data has been made available, Whites are getting injections at pretty much the projected rate based on their percentage of the local population, while Black and Hispanic residents are mostly below the per capita levels we should expect to see. What may come as a shock to our liberal friends are the states and cities where the worst disparities are appearing.

A racial gap has opened up in the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination drive, with Black Americans in many places lagging behind whites in receiving shots, an Associated Press analysis shows.

An early look at the 17 states and two cities that have released racial breakdowns through Jan. 25 found that Black people in all places are getting inoculated at levels below their share of the general population, in some cases significantly below.

That is true even though they constitute an oversize percentage of the nation’s health care workers, who were put at the front of the line for shots when the campaign began in mid-December.

To get an idea of where this phenomenon is being seen the most, let’s take a look at the chart developed by the Associated Press. (Click for full-size image)

Do you notice anything “odd” about the places where Black residents are trailing in vaccinations by the greatest amounts? Of the seven states with the lowest overall percentage of Black people being vaccinated, three of them are some of the bluest states in the nation (New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont). Vermont is also one of the whitest states in the country. And the two cities highlighted for falling very far behind are Chicago and Philadelphia. Those are also huge Democratic strongholds.

One of the other states that’s not at the bottom but has a very wide gap is Maryland, where Black people make up 30% of the population and 40% of the health care industry but represent just 16% of the people vaccinated so far. Maryland has a Republican governor (at least by party affiliation) but other than that it’s a bright blue state. And Larry Hogan may as well be a Democrat on most issues anyway.

Since the vaccination plans have been controlled at the state and municipal levels, how is it that these places that are run by Democratic governors and mayors are doing so poorly? Are they all just a bunch of racists? I’m only being partly facetious here because you know what the headlines would be like if the worst-performing areas were all in the deep south or bright red states.

So perhaps the root cause of this disparity isn’t racism after all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not “race-related.” The “experts” quoted by the AP pointed out that in at least some cases, it’s not that the vaccines aren’t being made available in Black communities. The people simply aren’t signing up to be immunized. One authority said it was the result of a “deep distrust of the medical establishment among Black Americans because of a history of discriminatory treatment.” But you can’t force people at gunpoint to go have a needle jammed in their arm. Perhaps the governors and mayors simply aren’t doing a good enough job convincing people that the vaccines are safe and effective.

The other factor being blamed involves a “digital divide” between the races. Most vaccine reservation programs are being handled entirely online. It sounds like the AP is suggesting that Black residents are less likely to be online than Whites, but they don’t offer any data to support that. Given the cost of laptops, cell phones and reliable internet access, that’s certainly possible, though.

So where do we go from here? Even under the current reign of authoritarian decrees excused by a declared state of emergency, I still refuse to believe that we’ll reach the point where people are being forcibly vaccinated against their will. Also, we already know that the vast, vast majority of people who contract the disease wills survive and emerge with some sort of natural immunity after they recover. Making the vaccines available to everyone who is interested in getting a shot is pretty much all the government can do. We’ll get there sooner or later, so there’s really not much to be done about this situation as far as I can tell.