Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media
Black Californians have joined Black Americans around the country in closing the COVID-19 vaccine equity gap.
As of Oct. 11, Black Californians were 4.2% of Californians that have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, up from 2.7% in February, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). 5.7% of the state’s population of nearly 40 million people are Black.
“Through our investments in targeted outreach and robust community-based partnerships, our work continues to reach the hardest-hit communities. Vaccines are how we end this pandemic – I encourage all eligible Californians to visit MyTurn.ca.gov to schedule an appointment for their first dose or find a booster shot to keep themselves and their community healthy,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine equity gap is narrowing across the United States as about 11% of the people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine are Black Americans, a group that makes up 12.4% of the U.S. population.
U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, spoke with California Black Media last week about the importance of equity in the nation’s pandemic response.
“The way we define success with the vaccination effort isn’t just how many people got vaccinated, but how equitably and fairly we get the vaccine to people across our country,” Murthy said.
“We know that there are communities in our country that have been long underserved by the healthcare system and the victims of structural inequities and structural racism that have prevented them from getting the care that they need,” he continued.
Murthy spoke about some of the equity challenges leaders faced at the beginning of the pandemic. The approach the feds took to address some of those difficulties was similar to California’s strategy.
“Early on in the vaccination effort, we saw those disparities developing in the adult population with Black communities and Latino communities having lower vaccination rates than White communities,” Murthy said.
“But the good news is there has been a lot of effort over the last many months, which included a lot of outreach and partnerships with communities of color, with leaders and organizations in those communities, working hard to make sure we had mobile units out getting to communities to bring vaccines to where people are and getting vaccines directly to community health centers where we know a lot of folks get their care. All of these efforts together, along with making sure the vaccines are free and making sure as many doctors as possible have the vaccine in their offices, has helped us close a lot of that equity gap,” Murthy continued.
Even as vaccination booster shots are becoming more readily available around the country, the COVID-19 Delta variant remains a significant threat in the U.S. and around the world. So, public health leaders are focused on expanding efforts get as many people as possible access to vaccinations and booster shots.
“California is leading the nation in vaccinations, with 52 million administered and 86 % of the eligible population having received at least one dose – today’s Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup recommendation on booster shots will help keep the momentum going as we enter the winter months,” Newsom said last week.
California, Oregon, Nevada and Washington state came together last year and created the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. The group, made up of scientists, medical professionals and public health experts, is charged with reviewing COVID-19 vaccine safety.
Last week, the workgroup recommended booster shots for vulnerable people and those who live or work in high-risk settings – if they have received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine prior.
“Recipients of the Moderna vaccine may receive a booster shot six months after completing their primary vaccination series, and recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may receive a booster shot two months after receiving their first dose,” the governor’s office said in a statement last week.
The workgroup also recommended a “mix-and-match” method, which means people who have received a Moderna vaccine can get a Johnson & Johnson booster shot and vice-versa.
Earlier this month, Newsom announced that California will be the first state in the nation to require children in middle school and high school to be vaccinated once COVID-19 vaccines for children are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA and the CDC will review data from Pfizer during the next two weeks to decide if COVID-19 vaccines are safe for even younger children, ages 5 through 11.
“Right now, what is happening is that the FDA is examining the data from Pfizer about clinical trials that concern kids 5-11 and they’re looking for two things: first is to understand if these vaccines work to protect our children from COVID and second, are they safe,” Murthy explained.
“Until they complete their review and make a decision on whether or not to offer the vaccine, we certainly won’t recommend them to the public or make a move to roll out vaccines. It’s all contingent upon the FDA’s review and the CDC’s recommendation,” according to Murthy.
Murthy also addressed the myth that young children are somehow immune to the effects of COVID-19.
“Even though kids do better than adults when it comes to COVID-19, it is not benign in children. We want to protect our children from the virus, and we also know that COVID has disrupted our kids’ lives in terms of making school difficult, interrupting youth sports, and making it hard to see friends and family members. So, getting our kids vaccinated is a big step towards not only protecting their health but helping them get their lives back,” Murthy said.
Murthy stressed the importance of equity and said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will continue to employ the same methods for children as they did for adults if the FDA and CDC approve vaccines for children in the 5-11 age range.
“We will bring the same commitment to vaccinating kids under 12. We are building on the great partnerships we have with community-based organizations and trusted leaders across the country. We are building on the access points that we’ve set up in the past and increasing those even further so there will be tens of thousands of places where people can get a vaccine for their children,” Murthy said.
California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.