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Tackling COVID-19 Vaccine Disparity Among Minority Populations

Celebrated every year in April, Minority Health Month is intended to build awareness about the disproportionate burden of premature death and illness in minority populations. This year, Minority Health Month holds a special meaning as we continue to grapple with the pandemic and uptake of the vaccine that will eventually help put the pandemic to an end.

It might be easy to brush this topic aside based on a preconceived notion that minorities have the same healthcare burdens as everyone else, but the historical data simply doesn’t back that up. And with COVID-19 vaccines becoming more readily available with each day that passes, we’re hoping to play a role in our community to ensure everyone, regardless of their racial or ethnic identity, understands that the vaccines were made with them in mind, are accessible to them, and are safe for general use.

Representation in Vaccine Development and Distribution

Historically, minority populations were not fully or equally represented in the medical field or when it came to the development, testing, and distribution of vaccines. As a result, there’s been some skepticism regarding how the development of the COVID-19 vaccine was handled in regard to minority representation.

During a recent town hall event hosted by the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, shared the following facts about the more than 37,000 people who participated in the Pfizer vaccine trials and the more than 30,000 people who participated in the Moderna trials:

  • Pfizer: 9 percent were Black or African American
  • Pfizer: 28 percent were Latino
  • Pfizer: 21 percent had at least one underlying condition (e.g., diabetes or obesity)
  • Moderna: 20 percent Latino
  • Moderna: 10 percent were Black or African American

For the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, 19.4 percent of the participants were Black or African American, 45.3 percent were Latino, 9.5 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.2 percent were Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 5.6 percent were multiracial.

In addition, Dr. Hrabowski shared the fact that the research leading up to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines we’re using today was done at the National Institutes of Health and led by Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, an African American woman and accomplished viral immunologist.

Access to Vaccines

There are many systemic health and social inequities that put minority groups and people of color at higher risk of getting COVID-19. More specifically, it’s estimated that Black and African American people are almost 1.5 times more likely to get COVID-19 than the general population. In addition, they are nearly four times as likely to require hospitalization and nearly three times more likely to die from the disease. For Latino populations, the statistics are strikingly similar. Access to health care, education, occupation, income, and housing are all factors that put people at risk for severe COVID-19 and death.

With minority populations bearing a greater burden of COVID-19, it’s absolutely essential that they be given the necessary access to vaccine supplies as they become available. UMMS is committed to ensuring vaccines are distributed in the safest and fairest way possible by following the State of Maryland’s phased vaccine distribution plan. This ensures that minority populations aren’t put at a disadvantage when trying to receive the vaccine. Moreover, COVID-19 vaccines are being offered at no cost to recipients, making it one of the most accessible vaccines available, regardless of economic barriers that may exist in a given community.

Building Trust in Vaccines

Black and African American communities have long suffered a history of ethical violations and injustices that still affect health outcomes in medical settings to this day. As a result, there’s been a rise in mistrust as well as misinformation surrounding vaccines in minority populations.

Whether it’s founded in a belief that there’s bias in the medical field or simply that more needs to be done to communicate the truth about vaccines with minority populations, there’s work to be done to build trust and spread awareness about the real benefits of vaccinations. It’s a substantial topic, but here are a few of the key points worth sharing about the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • COVID-19 vaccine development included representation at the highest levels from a wide variety of demographics
  • COVID-19 vaccines were studied across diverse and high-risk populations
  • In the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine trials, there was no difference in how effective the vaccines were across different demographics.
  • The approved vaccines available for COVID-19 are safe and effective with millions of people having already received them under the most intense safety monitoring in the history of the United States
  • While many people have reported mild side effects after COVID-19 vaccination, serious side effects have been extremely rare

To learn more about how UMMS and UM Charles Regional are working to eliminate vaccine disparity and hesitancy among minorities, we invite you to watch the following town hall event hosted on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We also recommend you listen to this audio-only webinar about the COVID-19 vaccine hosted by UM Charles Regional Medical Center and Charles County NAACP.

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