On Tuesday, March 9, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced the formation of a Vaccine Equity Coalition focused on ensuring equitable vaccine distribution to underserved communities. The coalition is a joint effort between Dutchess County, the City of Poughkeepsie and several local stakeholders, including community organizers and healthcare professionals.
In keeping with nationwide trends, racial disparities are reflected in vaccination rates in both New York State and Dutchess County. Overall, 78.1 percent of New Yorkers who have received at least one vaccine dose are white, although white people only make up 70.4 percent of the state’s total adult population. In Dutchess County, the vaccinated population is 90.2 percent white, while the general population is 82 percent white.
African American and Latino residents of Dutchess County are significantly less likely to be vaccinated. While African Americans make up 11.2 percent of the adult population, only 6.2 percent of vaccine recipients are African American. Only seven percent of vaccinated Dutchess County residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, compared to 11.2 percent of all adult residents.
Disparities in vaccination rates are the result of a myriad of factors.
On Feb. 26, the Vassar Community Care Team released a lecture focused on COVID-19 related racial health disparities. The event, which was co-sponsored by the ALANA Center, Student Growth and Engagement, Africana Studies department, Science Technology and Society department and the Transitions Program, included opening comments by Biology Professor Leroy Cooper followed by a presentation by Dr. Alexis Johnson, MD, MPH. Johnson works as an Emergency Department Physician at Westchester Medical Center and Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital. The lecture was moderated by Tiana Headley ’22 [Full Disclosure: Headley is a Senior Editor for the Miscellany News].
They described the factors that contribute to disparities in vaccine access, including geographical location, technological access, scheduling flexibility and financial resources. For example, in a vaccine registration system facing massive demand, individuals who lack technological knowledge or resources are vulnerable to slipping through the cracks. Cooper noted that residents without reliable internet access may miss out on the opportunity to register for open vaccination appointments that are often filled quickly.
Additionally, Johnson identified that people of color may be fearful of receiving the vaccine given the long history of medical abuse against minoritized communities. Johnson shared, “I do think that fear and caution is a big factor, from my own personal experience in my family, I know that that’s the case.” Cooper connected skepticism surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine with a general sense of misgiving towards the medical establishment. “A lot of it goes back to whole-sale distrust in the medical healthcare system, period, for African Americans,” said Cooper.
Johnson and Cooper emphasized the disproportionate toll that the pandemic has taken on communities of color, as reflected in nationwide hospitalization and death rates. Although Black and Latino Americans are only slightly more likely to contract COVID than white Americans, larger racial disparities are seen in hospitalization and fatality rates. Compared to white Americans, Black, Hispanic and Latino Americans are approximately three times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and are approximately twice as likely to die. Native Americans are nearly twice as likely to contract COVID-19 and nearly four times as likely to be hospitalized with the virus, compared with white Americans.
The Vaccine Equity Coalition has already identified several starting points to addressing racial disparities in vaccine access. The coalition aims to create more pop-up vaccination sites that are geographically accessible to underserved communities. At a recent pop-up vaccination site at Beulah Baptist Church in Poughkeepsie, all 450 vaccination appointments were successfully filled. Additionally, the coalition will work to distribute materials provided by the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health to address misinformation about the vaccine. “Focusing on hard-to-reach populations is critically important to the county, and we are committed to continuing this effort,” emphasized Molinaro.