US Vice President Kamala Harris is joining efforts to empower communities of color to get the COVID-19 vaccine and push for equitable immunization initiatives.
Harris encouraged the Black community to get the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, according to Reuters. Black Americans and Latinx people are currently not getting vaccinated at the same rates as white people despite being more at risk of death and serious illness from the coronavirus.
"Let's not let COVID get us. Let's get the vaccine instead, right?" Harris said in excerpts from an MSNBC interview scheduled to air on Sunday.
Overcrowded housing, environmental risks, jobs in fields that are more exposed to COVID-19, and bias in health systems are all putting people of color at a higher risk during the pandemic. In the US, Black Americans are dying at twice the rate of any other ethnic or racial group in the country due to social conditions and structural racism that has led to a lack of access to health care and more pre-existing conditions within the community.
Black and Latinx people who became eligible because they are health care workers or live in nursing homes have received fewer COVID-19 vaccines according to early US vaccination data.
"We know when you look at who the frontline workers are, who is the most at risk disproportionately,” Harris added. “We are talking about people of color.”
Black Americans are less likely to get vaccinated than other racial and ethnic groups in general –– only 35% surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in December said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine. Black Americans were also hesitant to enroll in vaccine clinical trials.
Much of the vaccine skepticism within the Black community stems from a mistrust of the medical system as a result of a deep history of discrimination and abuse against Black people, and the mixed messaging about COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic.
A lack of equitable vaccine distribution in the most vulnerable communities could hinder pandemic recovery. Public health officials understanding the historical reasons for Black Americans’ mistrust in medicine is the first step to addressing vaccine hesitancy, according to experts. Listening to people’s concerns and providing them with accurate and helpful information is advised. Black Americans are also more trustful of information that comes from Black doctors.
Health experts and advocates are calling for more equitable vaccine distribution that ensures Black Americans aren’t left behind and can get vaccinated if they choose. Vaccine time slots that accommodate frontline workers outside of work hours, addressing technological scheduling barriers, and community outreach are some recommended strategies to mitigating the discrepancies.
"It is disproportionately affecting us and if we want to get control of this virus that is harming us at a disproportionate rate, part of it is to get vaccinated," Harris said.