The introduction of COVID-19 vaccinations for elementary school children has exposed another blind spot in the country’s efforts to tackle pandemic inequalities: health systems have released little data on the racial breakdown of youth vaccinations, and community leaders fear black and Latin American children fall behind.
Only a handful of states have published public data on COVID-19 vaccinations by race and age, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not provide racial breakdowns either.
Despite the lack of hard data, public health officials and healthcare professionals are aware of the inequalities and have reached out to colored communities to help overcome concerns about vaccines. These include going to school, messaging in other languages, using mobile vaccination units, and emphasizing skeptical parents that the vaccinations are safe and highly effective.
Public health executives believe that racial differences are caused by work and transportation barriers, as well as persistent reluctance and information gaps. Parents who don’t have transportation have a harder time getting their children to and from appointments. Those who do not have flexible hours or paid family vacations may postpone vaccination for their children as they cannot stay home if the children miss school with mild side effects.
In the few places where COVID-19 vaccines for children are reported by race, the breakdowns vary.
In Michigan, Connecticut, and Washington, DC, white children were vaccinated much more often than their black counterparts. But in New York City, white children between 13 and 17 are vaccinated at lower rates than black, Latin American, and Asian children.
In Connecticut, vaccination rates for 12-17 year olds exceed 80 percent in many affluent, mostly white cities.
In Hartford, 39 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. Across the city limits in the West Hartford suburb, 88 percent of children of the same age are fully vaccinated, according to state data updated in November.
Hartford’s school system is 80 percent black and Latino. West Hartford schools are 73% white.
On Monday morning, parents who left their children at a diverse elementary school in Hartford gave a glimpse into the various opinions about COVID-19 vaccinations for children. More than 75 percent of the enrollment at the school is Latinos, Blacks, and Asians.
Some expressed suspicion about the vaccines and had no plans to have their children vaccinated. Others were completely on board. One father was initially skeptical, but said the school’s communications convinced him of the benefits of vaccinations for students, including ending interruptions in personal study.
Ed Brown said his 9-year-old son will be vaccinated because the boy’s mother is strong, although he still has some reservations. One result of vaccinating his son, Brown said, is that he gets himself vaccinated.
“I’m not going to give my son anything that I don’t know is safe,” said Brown, who is Black.
Another parent, Zachary Colon, said she was determined not to have her children vaccinated.
“I don’t vaccinate my son,” she said. “I read that it got FDA approval very quickly. I’m afraid they don’t know enough about it. “
Hartford Schools headmistress Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said the low vaccination rate among her students means more of them are missing out.
If vaccinated students are exposed to infected people, they can attend school as long as they do not show symptoms. Unvaccinated students must test negative for immediate return.
“This can become another barrier for some of our families. Some of our families are not getting the test for various reasons and have to wait the seven to ten days. And it kept the students at home so absolutely, ”she said.
In Washington, the persistent reluctance of the black community is reflected in low vaccination rates among black youth. The latest figures from the District of Columbia Department of Health show that the rate of full vaccination in black children between the ages of 12 and 15 is just over half that of their white counterparts: 29 percent versus 54 percent.
During a recent event promoting the start of vaccinations for children aged 5 and over, the Director of the Ministry of Health, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, said that the reluctance was difficult to overcome despite months of public campaigning in the country’s capital.
“People have to want to be vaccinated,” she says. “It’s not always an access problem. It’s an election question. “
In Seattle, the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic began setting up mobile clinics, offering home vaccinations, and providing information in a number of languages to reach families who otherwise might not have had a vaccination for their children. About 40 percent of the clinic’s patients are black and 30 percent speak a language other than English, while 70 percent take Medicaid.
The Chicago Health Department planned to expand their home vaccination program to include children ages 5 and older starting this week. The Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago and the Loyola Medicine Center west of Chicago both planned to send mobile pediatric immunization units to underserved communities in the coming days.
The White House has made health equity a top priority, and its coronavirus task force said last week that the country has closed the racial gap among its total population of 194 million fully vaccinated people. The Biden government also announced that it is spending nearly $ 800 million to support organizations that want to build vaccine confidence among black communities and low-income Americans.
But state, state and local systems for tracking public health data are still limited and underfunded, including tracking data on racial differences in childhood vaccines, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
“We haven’t invested in the data system we absolutely need for public health,” said Benjamin. “That is the fundamental failure of this system.”
Without widespread numbers on who gets the injection, it’s difficult to know what the differences might be, said Samantha Artiga, director of the Racial Justice and Health Policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Data is key to getting the full picture and understanding where there are differences,” said Artiga. “They can be used to pool efforts and resources and then measure progress in addressing these issues over time.”
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