Efforts to increase vaccination coverage through mandates could disproportionately shut out black people from patronizing businesses and going to restaurants, among other normal life activities, due to relatively low uptake of the shots.
“There is a risk that people of color who were not vaccinated might be disproportionately denied services because of [vaccine mandates],” said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. “The solution to that, of course, is to get vaccinated.”
In the United States, black people have the lowest vaccination rates of any racial or ethnic group. Although full up-to-date statistics are not available, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the share of black people who are vaccinated is about 6 to 7 percentage points lower than that of white or Hispanic people and 10 percentage points lower than that of Asians. The CDC's breakdown by demographic, though, reflects less than 70% of all shots administered since December 2020.
Vaccine hesitancy rates in black and white people are similar, NPR/Marist Polling shows — 25% and 28% respectively, suggesting that access to the shots is a greater barrier for black people. Measures of vaccine hesitancy by racial groups overlook barriers to access, Benjamin said, such as hardship taking time away from work to get the shots, as well as other "structural things that disproportionately get in the way of communities of color being vaccinated."
New York, Washington, and other states, as well as private companies such as Walmart and Google, have begun imposing vaccine requirements for workers in order to keep their jobs. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, announced last week that people who want to engage in leisure activities, such as indoor dining and museum tours, will have to provide proof of vaccination. The more forceful moves to make a dent on vaccine holdout numbers come after months of trying to lure in citizens with promises of perks such as cash prizes and free cocktails.
Democrats have proven much more willing to implement mandates for private and public sector workers. But Boston’s acting Mayor Kim Janey, a black woman governing a city whose population is 25% black, has broken with fellow Democrats by resisting a vaccine mandate for public workers. She likened the compulsory vaccination policies to racist post-Civil War policies that required black people to show their identification papers.
“There’s a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers — whether we are talking about this from the standpoint of … during slavery, post-slavery, as recent as, you know, what the immigrant population has to go through,” she said last week. “We’ve heard Trump, with the birth-certificate nonsense.”
After walking back the analogies to slavery, Janey stood by her argument against the mandates, saying they could also further delay the country’s economic rebound as far fewer people would be able to participate in commerce.
The highly transmissible delta variant has driven up new COVID-19 cases nationwide, giving public health officials a greater sense of urgency to vaccinate large swaths of the population as soon as possible. The U.S. is now reporting more than 100,000 new cases a day for the first time since early February.
“The problem is we're now in a situation where there are enormous trade-offs. … We're not looking at the original virus [strain],” Benjamin said. “We're now looking at a much more infectious virus in an environment in which there's no reason why you can't get vaccinated unless there's a medical reason why you can't.”
The Biden administration has sought ways to boost vaccination coverage in black communities by establishing vaccination sites and information centers at predominantly black churches, enlisting black-owned barbershops and salons to promote the vaccine, among other outreach measures.
While vaccine hesitancy in communities of color is an obstacle to preventing even more transmissible, virulent coronavirus strains from taking over, survey data indicate that 40% of black and Hispanic people who are unvaccinated are open to getting the shots, while just 26% say they will “definitely not” get the shots.
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Original Author: Cassidy Morrison