La. among states in KFF report on disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations; Tulane public health expert weighs in

Researchers working to address disparity of minorities receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
Researchers working to address disparity of minorities receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
Published: Mar. 3, 2021 at 4:25 PM CST
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(Editor’s note: This story was originally published February 19, 2021 at 7:26 PM CST - Updated March 2 at 2:08 PM on )

NEW ORLEANS, La. (Great Health Divide) - As additional vials of COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Louisiana, simultaneously there is an ongoing effort to get the shots into the arms of more of the state’s black and other minority populations.

Meanwhile, a report by the respected Kaiser Family Foundation on vaccinations by race and ethnicity says across the 34 states reporting such data including Louisiana there is a largely consistent pattern of black and Hispanic people receiving smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their number of cases, deaths, and their shares of the total population. The data in KFF’s is through February 16.

Dr. Thomas LaVeist is Dean of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and he also serves as Co-Chair of the governor’s task force on COVID-19 and health equity.

“I know that a lot of people are taking a wait-and-see attitude towards the vaccine, they want to wait to see what happens to people who took the vaccine first, but I think that’s not really a smart strategy; what you have to consider though is the risk of getting COVID compared to the risk of a vaccine,” said LaVeist.

KFFs’ report shows the percentage of vaccinations administered to blacks in Louisiana is 21 percent while African-Americans make up 32 percent of the total population.

LaVeist says it is important to keep in mind that certain segments of the population are currently prioritized for the vaccines.

“So, when you make the analysis that 20 percent of vaccines have gone to African-Americans but African-Americans are 32 percent of the state’s population that’s not really the correct comparison; the comparison is what percentage of the eligible Louisianans are African American that would be people over 65 now and healthcare workers, right?” LaVeist stated. “So, that’s not going to be 32 percent, it’s a smaller number than that, now that’s not to say that there isn’t a disparity, there is a disparity.”

And he said Louisiana is working to address it.

“We’ve gotten resources from outside; we have a grant from NIH as well as one from CDC to work on the issue of messaging and we’re throwing a lot of resources at it,” LaVeist stated.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health’s website, of the people who have had at least one dose of the two-dose vaccines currently available, over 57 percent are white, 20.21 percent black, 1.69 percent Asian and Hispanics are not listed, but the “other” category has 18/53 percent.

LaVeist says the number of available vials, where the shots are being administered and reluctance by individuals are all factors.

“We do have a vaccine hesitation problem where even among African Americans who have been offered the vaccine; the rate of refusal is higher than other racial and ethnic groups,” said LaVeist.

KFF says, in terms of vaccinating blacks, Louisiana is doing better than some other states in the Southeast. Its data shows the percent of vaccinations for blacks is 17 percent in Alabama, and 6 percent in Florida. Mississippi is a little ahead of Louisiana at 22 percent.

And variants have public health officials concerned about what could happen in the coming months.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the Director of the Centers for Disease Control.

“The continued spread of variants that are more transmissible could jeopardize the progress we have made in the last month,” she said.

LaVeist is also concerned about the emerging variants or virus mutations.

“And if we have too many mutations and the mutations continue to progress it can get to the point where the vaccines will be less effective. This worries me and I think this is why it’s so important that we get people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said.

Great Health Divide is an initiative addressing health disparities in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia funded in part by the Google News Initiative.

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