Data Shows That Less Than 10% of Louisiana’s Vaccines Have Gone to African-Americans. Here’s Why.

Recently released data from the Louisiana Department of Health showed that 9.86% of COVID-19 vaccines have gone to Louisiana’s African-American residents even though they make up 33% of the state’s population. 

While this data may paint a stark picture, the reality is there are many factors that have contributed to this statistic past the vaccine not being equitably offered to minority groups. 

The breakdown of who has received the vaccine was: 

  • White: 33%
  • Black: 10%
  • Asian: 1%
  • Other: 36%
  • Unknown: 20%

As you can see, 20% of vaccine recipients were “unknown” and 36% were just identified as “other” meaning 56% of the distribution information is unspecific. Governor John Bel Edwards has called on medical facilities to provide more complete data to ensure there is a fair and even roll-out of the vaccine to all groups.

It’s also pertinent when analyzing the data to recognize that the vaccine is only being offered to healthcare workers and those over 70 right now, so to paint an accurate picture of inequity in the roll-out you would have to calculate what percentage of these eligible populations are African-Americans. 

On the other hand, it does seem intuitive that Black people, who have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19, would be at the forefront of receiving vaccines. Black people have died at 1.7 times the rate of white people. On December 22nd, the country reached a benchmark where 50,000 Black Americans had died from COVID-19. 

However, while it seems like African-Americans should be prioritized for receiving the vaccine, it has been recognized that there is a higher rate of distrust in Black communities against the vaccine. 

Last summer the Louisiana Public Health Institute conducted a study that showed 49% of African-Americans said they would probably get the vaccine compared to 59% of white respondents. This distrust has largely been attributed to medical racism in the past and present. 

Dr. Courtney Phillips, Louisiana’s secretary of health, commented, “We have very good reason to be anxious and to not have trust, but for our own sake, and that of our communities, it’s important that we engage. We can’t afford not to. We can’t let fear or this valid mistrust leave us behind and perpetuate the current problems of COVID-19.”

What Dr. Phillips is referencing is the mistreatment of African-Americans by healthcare providers throughout history. One of the incidents that has continually popped up in recent discourse around the vaccine is the Tuskeegee Syphilis Experiment. 

This study occurred in 1932 when 623 Black men were recruited for a U.S. Public Health study at the Tuskegee Institute. The study, unbeknownst to the participants, was to observe the natural progression of syphilis infection in Black men. The participants were not told that they had syphilis but rather, “bad blood.” The experiment lasted for 40 years, during which it was discovered that penicillin was a reliable treatment for syphilis. However, the participants were kept from receiving it. 

This is just one of the countless incidents, including the eugenics movements and Henrietta Lack’s cells, where black patients have been discriminated against.  

New Orleans East Hospital CEO Dr. Takeisha Davis commented, “We can talk about the Tuskegee experiment and Henrietta Lacks cells, or we can talk about probable mistreatment that was happening yesterday in health care facilities across the US, and how that is not forgotten easily in our communities, but we can’t let that fear hinder us from being able to look at the facts around COVID-19.”

It has been stressed again and again that medical racism is not an issue from the past. In the COVID-19 era, cases of medical racism have continually popped up, from medical professionals discounting black people’s symptoms to policies that led to an unequal distribution of resources to black patients. 

Because of this, it’s understandable why Black Americans are wary of the medical community, public health officials, and the governments’ claims, especially since the vaccine has been developed and released so quickly. 

Dr. Corey Hebert, an assistant professor of health at LSU Health Science Center and Tulane University Medical Center, said “Black people invented vaccines. You’ve got to trust that science and know that these people on this call are going to do everything it takes for you to get a safe vaccine.”

Trying to create trust within these wary communities has been a goal of public health officials. 

Dr. Thomas LaVeist, co-chair of the Health Equity Task Force explained “The way to approach this, I think, is to acknowledge the distrust comes from a very real place. And not to try to pursue a narrative that the distrust is illogical.” He said that to challenge this distrust, “trusted messengers,” must be used to convey information. 

New Orleans has been recognized for its efforts to try and address distrust. Gabrielle Perry, an infectious disease epidemiologist based in Louisiana, explained, “Once on track to become a COVID-19 epicenter, New Orleans was able to lower both its incidence and prevalence rates by holding nightly COVID-19 informational sessions on the local news with Black doctors and healthcare providers, disseminating testing availability information through the city’s Department of Health, and asking local community leaders, such as the two deans of the two largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in the city, to explain and solicit participation in the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials at the state’s best hospital. When people are not only educated but also included in decisions about their health and safety, the community is safer. That is community health.” 

Louisiana is continuing to try to combat the virus, with new innovative strategies like the COVID Defense App they released this week which will alert people if they have been in contact with someone who has COVID. 

The state is planning on spending $475,000 on an ad campaign that will promote the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine while addressing community questions, like the possible side effects of the vaccine and misinformation that has been spread around it. 

It was recently, after all, that State House Republican lawmakers signed a petition to revoke the state’s virus restrictions, like the mask mandate, supporting the false narrative that the virus isn’t serious at all. The 400,000th COVID-19 death in the US occurring last week tells a different story. 

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