Racial Discrimination and the Role it Plays in Vaccine Distribution

The thought of a COVID-19 vaccine is quickly working its way towards a reality. Attention is largely focused on distribution and whose responsibility that may be. All states have submitted their initial distribution plans to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One overarching concern among nearly each state is how to provide equitable access to a vaccine. People of color are bearing a disproportionate burden of the virus and are often left with longstanding health disparities [1]. Thus, preventing racial disparities in vaccine distribution is imperative to help mitigate the disproportionate impacts of the virus on people of color.

Data from the CDC shows that people of color are less likely to be vaccinated compared to White counterparts [2]. Barriers to vaccination include access-related challenges, such as higher rates of uninsured individuals and overall decreased access to care. People who are uninsured are more likely to have a tougher time accessing care and, although the vaccine is projected to be free-of-cost, many individuals will not know how to obtain the vaccine.

There is also an element of discrimination and racism that creates barriers to vaccinations. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that “Black adults are less likely than other groups to say they would get a coronavirus vaccine if it was free and determined safe by scientists, with most citing safety concerns or distrust of the health care system as reasons why they would not get the vaccine” [3]. This is likely a result of the historical abuse people of color, specifically Black Americans, have felt at the hands of the medical system. The previously discussed survey showed that seven in ten Black Americans believe that race-based discrimination in health care happens very often or some-what often [3].

Moving forward, it is important to understand the thoughts and feelings of people of color. To adequately address disparities, prioritization of certain groups may be an important tactic. Providing equitable access to the vaccine will prove to be an important step in reducing the disproportionate effects of the virus among people of color. This will also bring health professionals one step closer to achieving population immunity through the proposed vaccines.