[SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS] Prioritizing vaccinations for elders? It’s not as simple as it seems
March 18, 2021
COVID-19 vaccinations are currently underway with over 1.2 million Minnesotans who have received at least one dose and 750,000 people with a completed vaccine series. The state’s decision to focus on age groups has caused 91% of the vaccinated population to be white people while only 82% of the total MMinnesotan population is white. The United States has a history of reducing the accessibility of health care to communities of color, and COVID-19 is proof of Minnesota continuing the trend.
The Minnesota Department of Health released data on vaccinations by race on Mar. 5 along with a news release stating they plan to give more doses and expand vaccination locations to communities of color. Before the release, there wasn’t a large force by the government to distribute vaccines to people of color, as shown in the data. A few local news organizations, including The Star Tribune quickly reported that equity was not a deciding factor in Governor Tim Walz’s vaccine distribution groups. The state is following a trend magnified by the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, the government has provided less testing in communities of color. Because of distrust and lack of insurance, people of color have often waited to receive healthcare until necessary. Undocumented immigrants often don’t have primary care providers or insurance, making finding a COVID-19 test challenging. They also are afraid of being deported and refuse to give out information in fear the government would use it against them. Furthermore, people of color are more likely to rely on each paycheck, and undocummented immigrants can’t collect unemployment. People of color are also statistically more likely to be essential workers, to be unable to work from home, and to have preexisting health conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous for them. Testing positive and losing the capability to work leaves them unable to pay rent or buy food for their families. It is a privilege to stay home and stay safe from COVID-19, one that doesn’t apply to most people of color in Minnesota.
Only 1.6% of the vaccinated population are Hispanic, and 4.8% of the Minnesotan population is Hispanic. Only 3.5% of the vaccinated population are African-American, and 6% of the Minnesotan population is African-American. Latinx people have the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths of 458 per 100,000 residents. Native American people follow with 327 deaths per 100,000 residents. White people have the lowest rate of 73 deaths per 100,000 residents.
The lack of vaccinations in communities of color is due to numerous socioeconomic factors including, distrust of the government based on the government’s reputation of providing reduced accessibility of healthcare to communities of color. An example of where the mistrust comes from is a federal study of syphilis that used Black people as test subjects from the 1930s through the 1970s while the government properly treated white people for the disease. Now, there are simply fewer available vaccines in areas that are predominantly people of color.
Statistically, white people do live longer than people of color due to socioeconomic factors such as healthcare, and high-quality healthcare being inaccessible to communities of color. 53% of people with at least one dose are 65 years old or older, but 93% of Minnesotans over the age of 65 are white. The government’s decision to vaccinate based on age caused huge discrepancies in vaccinations based on race. For example, less than 1% of the distributed vaccines have gone to Native Americans, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, even though Native Americans have the highest case fatality rate of 1.9%.
The percentage of vaccinated people of color is low compared to the risk COVID-19 has for them, but it’s not surprising compared to the U.S. and Minnesota’s history.