America needs a fuller picture of who’s getting vaccinated

The 50% increase in coronavirus vaccine production secured by the Biden administration last week means that, knock wood, there will be enough life-saving shots for every person in America by the summer. The challenges that remain ahead are distribution and, finally and most importantly, public buy-in.

COVID-19 hit harder and faster among African American and Hispanic populations, with more folks in those minority communities becoming infected, getting sick and ultimately dying. Delivering them the vaccine must recognize those grave facts. Which is why it’s very important to know how the shots are being allocated.

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To this end, the federal CDC has in place data use agreements with every state requiring that the states report back on vaccinations, including the race and ethnicity of those to whom shots are administered. Where there are available numbers, they show far lower rates of vaccination among Black and Latino people, at least some of which can surely be attributed to hesitancy in those populations. To that end, public awareness drives to boost participation are essential, as are making it easier to access shots with more sites in targeted neighborhoods.

Still, half the picture is missing. Sunday afternoon, the CDC reported: “Data from 38,292,270 people with 1 or more doses administered. Race/Ethnicity was available for 21,046,813 (55%) people with 1 or more doses administered.” So for the other 45%, we just don’t know.

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The Kaiser Family Foundation deserves great credit for trying to figure this out. They have produced a very useful website showing how each state is faring. Only half the states have any data publicly available and there is a huge variation, with some places close to the national average of 50% missing racial/ethnic stats and others with just about zero missing.

Since there is no way to compel people to list their race or ethnicity and either leaving it blank or selecting “decline to answer” is an option on screening and consent forms, the only way to get fuller compliance is for vaccination sites to be required not just to ask, but strongly urge voluntary disclosure. Get to it.