How COVID-19 Has Affected Minorities And Why The Vaccination Roll-Out Is A Symptom Of The Same Disease
COVID-19 has highlighted and amplified any number of shortcomings in our society, perhaps most glaring of which has to do with our healthcare system. It should come as no surprise that there the nation’s issues with systemic racism and a bias toward the wealthy should influence who gets sick, who gets treated, and who dies of a disease that is on pace to claim the lives of 500,000 Americans.
Just about any way you slice up the American population, there are haves and have-nots. It’s relatively easy to point to the racial and age disparities in COVID-19 outcomes in the US, and those have been remarkably well-documented. Minorities face an elevated risk of contracting the virus, being hospitalized, and also higher fatality rates than whites. Native Americans are hospitalized at four times the rate of whites, and face over twice the risk of dying of the disease. Every single minority population faces elevated risks, a reality that is borne not out of an immediate, unexpected pandemic but a century-long system that reduces access to care and information for many of these communities.
Even as vaccines are finally reaching the most vulnerable populations, minorities aren’t getting vaccinated at the same rates as whites. Specifically, Black Americans are underserved to a dramatic degree. In the sixteen states that shared data on who they’ve vaccinated, Blacks were vaccinated at remarkably lower numbers. In one state, Pennsylvania, just .03% of state residents have been vaccinated, as compared to 1.2% for whites.
There are other interesting risk factors that have emerged as more data are gathered. Weight hasn’t always been mentioned as being an additional underlying health risk, but there’s more evidence that overweight and obese Americans are one of the most vulnerable populations. To offer a blanket statement, the higher your BMI, the most negative your COVID-19 outcome. One study found that COVID patients who were obese were 113% more likely to be hospitalized and 74% more likely to be moved to intensive care. Obese patients were also 48% more likely to die of COVID than patients deemed of healthy weight. There’s even evidence that of all hospitalized patients, 29% were overweight and 48% were obese. That makes BMI one of the most informative factors when it comes to COVID-19 risk assessment.
Of course, many of the shortcomings in the vaccination process are the product of a poorly-designed and largely mishandled federal plan, often leaving criteria for vaccination prioritization up to states and to the winds of political interference. Still, there are ways to improve who gets access to vaccines and, until supply can actually meet demand, more effort needs to be made in informing the most at-risk communities, including race and those with underlying conditions. There are plans to improve this system, and there are also states that have done a good job designing their own rollout for the benefit of all.
The effort to inform and vaccinate Americans has been undermined by a year of misinformation, but also decades of inequality that is being paid for in lives. These shortcomings only reinforce the need for more equitable access to care and the need for better healthcare education for medical professionals and at-risk communities on any number of health topics