The incredible scientific feat of developing a vaccine for a global pandemic in less than 12 months should be commended. But the work is far from done. I believe the largest challenge remains before us — and that is fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine, including for our Latino community.
As The Inquirer reported Jan. 11, thus far COVID-19 vaccines have gone mostly to white Philadelphians — and this trend is reflected across the commonwealth. Philadelphia officials have reported that as of early January, 43% of vaccines distributed in Philadelphia went to white Americans. Even more concerning is that these data have not even directly identified Latino patients. They may belong to the 10% who reported their race as “other,” or the 25% of the vaccinated whose race was “unknown,” so we’re left to assume that this represents some of the Latino community, or maybe none at all.
The COVID-19 vaccine presents a great opportunity for our health-care system and the City of Philadelphia to demonstrate its protection of and commitment to the Latino community. But right out of the gate some grave errors and oversight have already bubbled to the surface.
The lack of attention given to the Latino community will only continue to breed a culture where our minority communities feel marginalized and uninformed. That is, unless some major and immediate actions are taken to more effectively distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to people of color, and accurately track those who receive it. I commend the City of Philadelphia for the actions it is taking to expand the distribution of the vaccine, such as the mass clinic it opened in Center City earlier this month, but there is much more work to be done.
Pennsylvania’s Latino communities are unique for many reasons. Those in charge of the COVID-19 vaccine must not only recognize that, but adjust their messaging and approach accordingly. Yes, it’s important to provide adequate education and access to the vaccine — but more important is breaking the cycle of distrust, confusion, and fear.
Right here in Pennsylvania, our nonwhite communities have been disproportionately hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. It took months to launch a COVID-19 mobile response unit to reach these communities with free testing and educational resources that were in Spanish as well as English. And even with these heroic efforts, so many people across the commonwealth continue to lack access to the health-care resources and PPE items desperately needed at this time. Can we expect the dissemination of the COVID-19 vaccine to be different?
I hope so. But it will take a commitment from our city health officials and the medical community who have sidestepped the Latino community for far too long. It will take a proactive and collective effort to break this cycle – and it can begin with the COVID-19 vaccine.
I urge Pennsylvania’s community health partners to pay special attention to reaching our minority communities with the COVID-19 vaccine. It will take the right approach to instill trust and gain credibility. This includes meeting them where they are, making education and resources accessible, understandable, and translated where needed, and breaking down any financial barriers.
And to my fellow brothers and sisters of color, for us to traverse these health disparities and protect ourselves against COVID-19, we have to be proactive contributors. Simply put, we have to take part in the process. That will look different for everyone, but at minimum I encourage you to educate yourself with trustworthy sources, speak to medical professionals you respect, and seek guidance from those who have your best interests at heart.