Ensuring vaccine equity is key to ending the pandemic, especially when it comes to vaccinating communities that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19.
Addressing racial and ethnic disparities in health care is imperative to this effort, which is why the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced plans to investigate the intersection of race and health, according to Time.
Director of the CDC Dr. Rochelle Wolensky has launched a new initiative called “Racism and Health,” through which the CDC plans to investigate the impact of racism on health and how the agency can promote health equity.
“I have been pretty articulate in declaring racism a serious public health threat,” Walensky told Time. “The word racism is intentional in this [initiative] for the CDC. This is not just about the color of your skin but also about where you live, where you work, where your children play, where you pray, how you get to work, the jobs you have. All of these things feed into people’s health and their opportunities for health.”
The pandemic has further illuminated the impact of race on a person’s health. For one, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color around the world.
In the US, the vaccination campaign has administered more than 174 million doses, vaccinating 20% of the country’s total population, according to NPR. But some communities are underrepresented in this percentage, such as Black and Latinx residents and low-income people, which experts have said is caused by the different ways in which racism negatively impacts the health of people of color.
The CDC has investigated health disparities among communities of color in the US before, but Walensky has charged offices of the CDC to develop interventions and measurable health outcomes to address racism across different areas, such as childhood immunizations, nutrition, and chronic disease.
One aspect of the new initiative will be supporting community-based efforts to vaccinate underserved neighborhoods against COVID-19. The CDC plans to invest resources and funding to connect with leaders in these communities to find out why they are underrepresented within vaccination rates and how to change that. It also plans to use this method to understand the social determinants of health, investigating the effect of food deserts and lack of access to health care on communities of color.
A web portal for “Racism and Health” will also provide resources for the public to promote discourse on how racism negatively affects health, as well as provide updates on the agency’s latest science and research.
“There has been a lot of documenting the problem,” Walensky said. “I want to start thinking about … how we can intervene to solve the problem. Not all of them will be successful, but I’d really like to think about how we can start looking at interventions that make a difference.”