Issues driving lower COVID-19 vaccination rate among Black Hoosiers

Coronavirus

FILE – A pharmacist administers a dose of the covid vaccine to a man at a coronavirus vaccination clinic on Jan. 28, 2021. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

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INDIANAPOLIS — As of Monday, nearly 700,000 Hoosiers have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Race demographic data provided by the Indiana State Department of Health shows Black residents are less likely to have received a vaccine than white residents.

Black Indiana residents make up 10% of the state’s population, yet they account for 4% of Hoosiers vaccinated so far. The disparity is even larger in some Indiana counties.

Recently, ISDH began publishing COVID-19 vaccination demographics by county. In Marion County, Black residents account for 28% of the population. However, they make up 14% of first doses administered to Marion County residents.

Lake County is seeing something similar. 24% of the county’s population is Black or African American, but they received only 11% of first vaccine doses.

These numbers are not exact because race is unknown for 6% of vaccinations in the state.

Carl Ellison, president and CEO of Indiana Minority Health Coalition, was not surprised by the race demographic data so far.

“Black population is under represented because we have a shorter life span than whites, and then we are also in part more resistant,” he said. “And all of our surveys suggest we are more vaccine adverse because of past history.”

Right now, only Hoosiers age 65 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Patient-facing healthcare workers, longterm care residents and staff and first responders are also able to sign up for an appointment.

According to Census data, just under 11% of the Black population in Indiana is 65 years or older. About 18% of the white population in Indiana is 65 or older.

A December 2020 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “about a quarter (27%) of the public remains vaccine hesitant, saying they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists.”

That same study found that about 35% of Black Americans, who face disproportionately negative COVID outcomes, say they “definitely or probably would not get vaccinated.”

Ellison explained there are also barriers making it more difficult for Black residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Whites always have the advantage when it is first come first serve anything because they have more resources to get the shots,” he said.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box addressed the racial disparities during a February 3 COVID-19 briefing with Governor Eric Holcomb. She said the state is working with the federal pharmacy program to include locations in diverse neighborhoods.

“Hopefully with the continued communication and education efforts and the trusted individuals across the state speaking up for the safety and efficacy of the virus, we will see more uptake in these populations,” Dr. Box said.

The American Red Cross of the Indiana Region is partnering with almost 40 grassroots organizations to encourage a dialogue about vaccinations. Chad Priest, their CEO and president, said the goal is to provide information and respect everyone’s decision making process.

“We need to get out and show people what vaccination looks like, and we also need to show people what the process of deciding to get vaccinated looks like,” he said.

The coalition is planning a series of in-person and virtual events focused largely in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, the Aetna neighborhood in Gary, Indiana and Brownstown, Indiana. Events will include social media campaigns and how-to-videos to help community leaders host their own outreach.

“The disparities surrounding vaccinations to date are not terribly surprising, but they are terribly concerning, and I think this has been known to us in the public health community for some time,” said Priest.

As vaccine appointments open up to more age groups, Ellison with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition will be looking closely at the trends over time.

“If we see slippage or no improvement, then we will work with the state and others to point out the disparities and see what else we can do to address this,” he said.

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