Washington state reveals racial disparities in vaccine rollout

Just 5.9% of the Hispanic population in the state has received the vaccine.

February 12, 2021, 4:45 PM

Black, Hispanic and multiracial populations in Washington state have received fewer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine compared to other communities, officials said.

The state’s department of health shared new data revealing the racial disparities in its vaccine rollout.

Washington state, with a population of 7.6 million, has recorded 326,159 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 4,633 deaths per state data.

Just 4.7% of residents who received at least one dose of the vaccine are Hispanic -- lower than the state’s Hispanic population of 13.2%, according to the data.

Meanwhile, Hispanics account for roughly 32% of the state’s coronavirus cases, according to the data.

PHOTO: A member of the Seattle Fire Department administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a patient in Seattle, Feb. 5, 2021.
A member of the Seattle Fire Department administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to a patient in Seattle, Feb. 5, 2021.
Paul Christian Gordon/ZUMA Wire via Newscom

Black and multiracial people are also underrepresented in the vaccine rollout compared to Washington state's overall population.

Less than 3% of non-Hispanic Black residents are fully vaccinated. Non-Hispanic Blacks make up 3.9% of the state’s population.

Multiracial people who do not identify as Hispanic make up 4.3% of the state’s population but just 0.3% have been fully vaccinated.

By contrast, 65.8% of non-Hispanic whites in the state have been fully vaccinated; they make up 67.6% of the population.

“We need an even more pro-equity approach,” Secretary of Health Umair Shah said at a Wednesday briefing.

As of Feb. 6, more than 940,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed in Washington state.

Officials said several factors are responsible for the disparities, including a shortage of vaccine supply, the mistrust in some communities of color to get the vaccine and the underrepresentation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) workers in the health care sector, who were the first to receive vaccines.

“There are a lot of factors contributing to the initial inequities we’re seeing," Paj Nandi, the state’s community relations and equity director, said. "We know that BIPOC communities and other historically marginalized groups have a lot of mistrust for very valid reasons.”

There’s no “one strategy” to close the gap, but officials are spearheading several new approaches, he added.

PHOTO: Patients line up at a pop up vaccination clinic in Seattle on Feb. 5, 2021.
Patients line up at a pop up vaccination clinic in Seattle on Feb. 5, 2021.
Paul Christian Gordon/ZUMA Wire via Newscom

Washington’s state department of health said it will prioritize vaccine allocation to providers who serve disproportionately impacted communities.

Other efforts include investing in trusted community leaders and organizations and ensuring communication and outreach efforts are culturally and linguistically accessible.

Seattle has dedicated a portion of its vaccine doses specifically for communities of color.

The city's mayor, Jenny Durkan, said roughly 75% of the city’s doses have gone to BIPOC community members.

"The state numbers show that if we’re not intentional about it, it doesn’t happen. And what this, those pop-up clinics show, if you are intentional about it, you can make a difference," Durkan told local ABC affiliate KOMO on Thursday.

For many locals, resolving the inequity is more dire than ever.

“We are dying by high numbers in the Black community because people are afraid of the vaccine,” Sharon Martin, who was vaccinated on Thursday at a Seattle vaccination event held at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, told KOMO.

“Historically, because of the Tuskegee airmen and things like that, people just don’t trust. Especially the government,’ Martin added.

The U.S. government misled Black men to participate in a program, now known as the Tuskegee syphilis study, where they were told they’d receive free health care when they were actually observed for the effects of untreated Syphilis from 1932 to 1972. The unethical study resulted in the deaths of over 100 participants.

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