Inequities in healthcare have been brought to the forefront during the pandemic. People of color are experiencing a higher incidence of COVID-19 cases and higher rates of hospitalization and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of April 16, 2021, American Indian or Alaska Native persons are 1.6 times, and Hispanic or Latino persons are 2.0 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than white persons and experience higher rates of hospitalization and death.
Focusing on the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minorities and underscoring the need for these vulnerable communities to get vaccinated, the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health is using the theme of #VaccineReady for National Minority Health Month this year.
People of color are at higher risk of COVID-19 infection due to several social and cultural determinants of health, such as close proximity and shared living environments, access to healthcare, and vaccine fear. Congregate living circumstances – including multigenerational homes – tend to be more frequent among people of color. Close quarters are, unfortunately, an optimal environment for COVID-19 to spread, so families living in these circumstances need to be even more careful to protect themselves from infection.
Inequities in healthcare also contribute to the spread of infection. People from some racial and ethnic minority groups are historically more likely to be uninsured, resulting in a financial barrier to care; and, in some cases, may also be less likely to seek care because of distrust in the healthcare system.
Then add vaccine fear. At a recent vaccination clinic, a young woman of color was petrified to be vaccinated – because her mother told her that it was too dangerous and she shouldn’t do it! Historical incidents in experimental safety and efficacy trials and unethical targeting of minority groups have also fostered mistrust and fear.
What can you do?
- Counter fear with accurate information and urge people of color to get the facts about the COVID-19 vaccines and share the information with their family and friends. Visit the Massachusetts Department of Public Health vaccine website to learn more about the vaccine.
- Contact a local community health center to talk to someone about any vaccine concerns; many health centers provide multilingual care.
- Encourage people of color to get vaccinated and practice COVID-19 safety – wearing a mask, washing hands often, avoiding crowds, staying socially distant from those they don’t live with, and relying on reputable sources of information.
- Read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations on how to protect yourself and avoid getting sick.
- Learn more about minority health initiatives and resources from the Office of Minority Health.
- Take the Minority Health Bingo Challenge from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, available in English and Spanish.
The authors are members of the Commonwealth Medicine Cultural Diversity Committee.