This sporadic and disparate data reporting calls to mind the sporadic and disparate reporting on police shootings. But in both cases, these data and the human stories behind them are enough to show the full gravity of America’s systemic ills.
The COVID Racial Data Tracker, which collected publicly released state data, shows that Black Americans have been the most likely to die of COVID-19, at 1.4 times the rate of white people. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have been the most likely to be infected with the virus.
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But high reported death rates have not translated into high vaccination rates. White Americans, who are the least likely to die of COVID-19 and who have had the highest vaccine-hesitancy rates, are overrepresented among the fully vaccinated. As of April 29, white Americans accounted for 67.4 percent of the fully vaccinated; they make up 61.2 percent of the U.S. population. By contrast, among the fully vaccinated, only 10 percent are Latino Americans and 8.4 percent are Black Americans, despite making up 17.2 percent and 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, respectively. Asian Americans, too, are underrepresented among the fully vaccinated, while the vaccination rates of Native Americans and Pacific Islanders are nearly proportional to their populations.
Shadows remain, too, over these vaccination data. Race and ethnicity data are available for only 58.2 percent of those fully vaccinated, as reported in the CDC COVID Data Tracker on April 29. Racial disparities could be much worse or much better. Like much of the racial pandemic, we still do not know. We still cannot see.
We need the same variables and the same risk factors to be identified and collected for everybody in the same manner across the nation. We need data equality. And then equality needs to take a seat for equity. But it has not.
The course of the racial pandemic over the past year—from death disparities to vaccination disparities—has plainly revealed that the United States fosters policy inequity in health care. As a result, the most vulnerable receive the least medical protection, while the least vulnerable receive the most medical protection.
Equality is providing every group with the same access to vaccines. Equity is vaccinating groups based on need. When it comes to policy outcomes, what’s equal is not always equitable. The United States chose equality for racial groups, refusing to provide Black, Native, and Latino Americans with vaccines first even though they were dying at the highest rates. The United States chose equity for age groups, providing the elderly the vaccine first because they were dying at the highest rates.
But the policy of vaccinating the elderly first (after health-care workers) was hardly race neutral. No policy is. Providing the first vaccines to elderly people privileged white Americans, who constitute a disproportionate amount of the elderly population in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, the most common age of white Americans in the United States is 58, compared with 27 for people of color (29 for Asian Americans, 27 for Black Americans, and 11 for Latino Americans). Aside from their greater access, the elderly-first policy could be the main reason white Americans—despite their vaccine hesitancy—are overrepresented among the fully vaccinated. Elderly is an imprecise political proxy for white, just as prisoner is an imprecise political proxy for Black, and just as immigrant is an imprecise political proxy for Latino.