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As disparities in the vaccine rollout become increasingly apparent, the Editorial Board encourages everyone to help others stay safe and get vaccinated
On April 6, 2020, President Joe Biden announced that all Americans would be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, roughly two weeks earlier than the previous deadline set by the administration. After a year of isolation and loss, what once seemed unimaginable for many Americans—widely accessible vaccines to protect against COVID-19—are now closer than ever, bringing hope to many that the end of the pandemic is near.
In California specifically, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that all Californians over the age of 16 would be eligible to make a COVID-19 vaccination appointment starting April 15. Many vaccination clinics were able to open their appointments to those over 16 much sooner, including UC Davis Health, which recently expanded its eligibility to all those over 16 on April 6.
Yet while the vaccine rollout has brought hope and protection to many, it has been wrought with issues that continue to highlight the disparities within our healthcare system. Racial and ethnic minorities, who are at an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 due to longstanding health inequities, are receiving smaller shares of vaccinations in comparison to their share of the population and their COVID-19 infection and death rate. For example, only 23% of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people in California, while they make up 40% of the population, 55% of COVID-19 cases and 47% of deaths.
Meanwhile, white people consistently are receiving more than their fair share of vaccinations. Data from 41 states compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that the vaccination rate for white people is 1.8 times higher than the rate for Hispanic people and 1.6 times higher than the rate for Black people.
These differences are often attributed to disparities in access to vaccine infrastructure, as Black and Hispanic people are less likely than white people to have access to reliable internet for booking appointments or flexible work schedules to attend their appointment. Vaccination rates also align with socioeconomic status; according to a press release from the Office of Gov. Gavin Newsom, 50% more vaccinations have gone to California’s wealthiest populations than the poorer and more vulnerable.
On a global scale, vaccinations have almost exclusively been given to wealthier countries that were able to buy vaccines sooner. As of March 30, 2021, 86% of shots administered worldwide have been given to individuals in high- and upper-middle-income countries, whereas only 0.01% of doses have been given to individuals in low-income countries. At that time, 30 countries had not been able to administer a single vaccine dose, and it was estimated that many developing countries will not be able to vaccinate their entire population until 2024.
Though the U.S. was able to secure vaccine doses earlier than other countries, the fragmented vaccine rollout within the U.S. created noticable differences on a state and county level. Many eligible individuals who were able to receive their vaccinations in the last few months heard about available appointments through word of mouth, making it difficult to book highly elusive appointments which vary based on personal connections.
While California’s My Turn website has centralized the process for booking a vaccination appointment, appointments are still challenging to find and availability is limited. Though the state’s increase in vaccine supplies in the coming weeks should alleviate some of those challenges, Newsom warns that, “it is expected to take several months for willing Californians to be vaccinated.”
The state of California has implemented some measures intended to alleviate the disparities in vaccine distribution, including funding local programs aimed at vaccinating the state’s most vulnerable communities and partnering with community-based organizations to vaccinate farmworkers. UC Davis Health has also worked on distributing the vaccine to individuals experiencing homelessness in Sacramento and providing COVID-19 outreach and educational services to farmworkers.
The Editorial Board urges all students and community members to get the vaccine as soon as they are eligible and able to book an appointment. In light of these systemic disparities, it is important for those who are vaccinated to acknowledge the privilege they have in receiving the vaccine. This includes assisting others who may have a harder time accessing vaccine appointments by helping them book appointments and spreading the word about vaccination clinics.
While many health disparities revealed by the vaccination rollout need to be addressed on a state-wide and national level, these individual actions can help those who face unfair challenges get access to vaccines sooner—leading to more protection for our entire community.
Even with vaccination rates on the rise, be sure to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distance and wear masks in public.
If you or anyone you know has concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, there are resources available. The CDC has information about vaccine safety and effectiveness at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/effectiveness.html. You can schedule an appointment through https://covid19.ca.gov/vaccines/.
Written by: The Editorial Board