COVID-19 and Health Equity: Prioritizing Vaccinations by Race Raises Ethical Questions

Prioritizing vaccinations by race raises ethical questions

by on • 3:21 PM


While people of color in the U.S. are at high risk for COVID-19, they are not the ones getting the most vaccinations. As of April 15, whites accounted for two-thirds of people who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among vaccine recipients whose race and ethnicity were known, about 11% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, 5% were Asian and 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native.

Early on, some of those numbers could be explained in part by the makeup of the U.S. health workforce, which was prioritized for early vaccinations and is primarily white. But the vaccination percentages do not line up with the fact that minorities are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death than whites.

That disparity has led two states to prioritize people of color for vaccination this year. In January, Montana announced it was prioritizing American Indians and other minority groups for COVID-19 vaccination. On April 7, Vermont began prioritizing Black adults and other people of color for COVID-19 vaccinations, citing trailing vaccination rates.

“It is unacceptable that this disparity remains for this population,” Mark Levine, MD, Vermont’s health commissioner, said during a news conference announcing the decision.

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