A version of this story appeared in the January 27 edition of Bioreports’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
(Bioreports)The coronavirus pandemic is shining light on long-entrenched inequalities in the most tragic ways possible.
Black and Latino Americans are receiving the Covid-19 vaccine at significantly lower rates than White people — a disparity that health advocates blame on the failure by the US federal government and hospitals to prioritize equitable access.
A Bioreports analysis of data from 14 states found vaccine coverage is on average twice as high among White people as it is among Black and Latino people.
The figures are even more concerning because Black and Latino Americans are already dying of Covid-19 at three times the rate of White people and being hospitalized at a rate four times higher, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
So far, nearly 20 million people — about 6% of the US population — have received at least the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. Nearly 3.5 million are fully vaccinated. The numbers are a far cry from where some officials hoped the United States would be by now.
Yesterday, President Joe Biden announced measures aimed at ramping up vaccine allocation and distribution, including the purchase of 200 million more doses and increased distribution to states by millions of shots from next week.
With those extra doses, Biden said 300 million Americans — nearly the entire US population — could be inoculated by the end of summer or early fall. Biden’s plan includes putting federally supported vaccination centers in high-risk neighborhoods, setting up mobile vaccination sites in medically underserved areas, administering the vaccine at independent pharmacies and partnering with community health centers. It will also ensure high-risk facilities such as jails and homeless shelters have access to the vaccine.
“We are going to make sure there are vaccination centers in communities hit hardest by the pandemic, in Black and Latino communities and rural communities as well,” Biden said.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: I’ve had my vaccine now. Can I ditch the face mask?
A: Please don’t. Bioreports Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University, explains why: “The vaccine will protect you from getting ill and then ending up hospitalized, but it’s possible that you could still carry the virus and be contagious to others. So those who get the vaccine should still be wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.”
Wen said this doesn’t mean we will need to wear masks forever. It is estimated that about 70% of the population must be vaccinated before we reach herd immunity. That’s the point where enough people have immunity that the virus won’t spread any more.
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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
AstraZeneca pushes back amid an ugly row over vaccines
AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot has rejected criticism from top European officials over delays in vaccine deliveries to the bloc. Speaking to the Italian newspaper la Repubblica yesterday, Soriot said that because the European Union’s vaccine orders came after those from some other countries, the drugmaker was unable to give the bloc an iron-clad commitment on its delivery schedule.
The EU said AstraZeneca surprisingly announced last week it would deliver fewer than expected doses to the bloc. EU officials responded by threatening to restrict vaccine exports. Italy has warned that it could take legal action. The ugly row over vaccine supplies puts question marks over the EU’s previous — and loud — declarations of solidarity, cooperation and the need to ensure access to vaccines in developing countries.
The world is watching. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa even accused rich countries of hoarding vaccines, while Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of UNAIDS, called the situation “vaccine apartheid.” And in their annual letter released today, Bill and Melinda Gates warned against “immunity inequality.” They wrote: “From the beginning of the pandemic, we have urged wealthy nations to remember that Covid‐19 anywhere is a threat everywhere. Until vaccines reach everyone, new clusters of disease will keep popping up.”
Covid-19 has killed 100,000 people in the UK. The government is still getting it wrong
The UK has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths in the world, proportionate to population. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly pointed to a new and more contagious variant of the virus, now infamously known around the world as the “UK variant,” as one of the reasons.
But it’s not that simple. Like in the first wave, the government has been slow to respond to rising case and death numbers with restrictions. It has failed to get an adequate contact-tracing and isolation system running. And it has, again, been slow on border controls, only closing “travel corridors” with more than 60 countries or territories in mid-January amid record-breaking daily death tolls. Experts say the government hasn’t learned from its past mistakes and still lacks a coherent strategy, Angela Dewan writes.
Student suicides pushed a school district to speed up a return to in-person learning
As Covid-19 cases climb across the US, school districts are facing an impossible dilemma of protecting either students’ mental health by returning to the classroom or their physical health by keeping them at home. Nevada’s Clark County School District, the fifth-largest in the US, is expediting its plan to bring students back after a rise in student suicides. Meanwhile, major districts in Chicago and New Jersey have shelved plans to return to the physical classroom at the last minute in the face of opposition from teachers.
A new study from the US CDC says in-person learning is possible — but only with the right precautions. The Biden administration said it wants schools to reopen but believes Congress must make the necessary investments to safely return to in-person learning.
ON OUR RADAR
- The world has now surpassed 100 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
- A gorilla called Winston at San Diego Zoo was given monoclonal antibody therapy after being infected with Covid-19.
- A business exec and his wife were charged after flying into a remote Canadian town and posing as local workers to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
- The World Health Organization’s team in Wuhan will finally begin its long-delayed coronavirus investigation after clearing quarantine.
- Some 31 London Metropolitan Police officers face fines after having their hair cut at a police station in east London — breaching Covid-19 regulations — while on duty.
- These high schoolers turned their tough experiences during the pandemic into powerful memoirs.
- A Taiwanese man has been fined $1 million New Taiwan Dollars ($35,000) for repeatedly breaking his home quarantine.
As public demand grows for limited supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, questions remain about whether older adults with various illnesses should be inoculated. Among them are cancer patients receiving active treatment, dementia patients near the end of their lives and people with auto-immune conditions. Here are some tips on how older adults with chronic illnesses can assess whether to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
“The real bottleneck to this system is having enough nurses and trained personnel at the site to administer the vaccines to as many people as they can in a given day.” — Ted Ross, PhD, director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia
The vaccines rollout has proven to be a logistical challenge unlike anything before. Bioreports Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at some of the different vaccine distribution strategies employed in West Virginia and Georgia, and why one state is doing so much better than the other. Listen now.