Albany

Forum examines racial disparity as Black vaccination rate lags

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ALBANY — More than a year after COVID vaccines first became available to the general public, Black communities continue to have lower vaccination rates than the population as a whole.

The disparity was the subject Tuesday of a forum sponsored by United University Professions, the union representing many SUNY professionals. 

Two Black physicians — one a SUNY professor, the other a professor emeritus at SUNY — discussed factors that leave Black New Yorkers with a COVID vaccination rate below other demographic groups and with a disproportionately high share of New York’s COVID fatalities.

Dr. Camille Clare, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, and Dr. Gregory Threatte, professor emeritus of pathology at Upstate Medical University, said Black people are less willing to seek vaccination or medical care due to historic and current racism, and less able because of practical factors such as time, money and transportation.

About two-thirds of New York state’s 3.56 million Black residents live in New York City.

State data show that Black residents have accounted for 28% of New York City’s COVID-related fatalities since March 2020 but comprise only 22% of that city’s population. In the rest of New York state, about 9% of residents are Black but 13% of COVID victims have been Black.

The Black-white split is much narrower on vaccination.

New York City’s health department reports that 63% of Black residents and 66% of white residents have received at least one shot of vaccine. Both groups lag far behind Hispanic (80%) and Asian (99%) residents of The Big Apple.

For the state as a whole, the pattern is the same: White residents are vaccinated at a somewhat higher rate than Black residents but rates for Hispanic and Asian residents are higher than either.

COVID is typically more dangerous to those with poor baseline health.

Clare spoke of the factors that have resulted in some Black New Yorkers having poorer baseline health and more reluctance to be vaccinated: Inferior education, bad working conditions, medical racism, limited access to health care, unhealthy living conditions, lack of transportation and lack of trust.

“These things are present issues,” she said. “We’re not talking about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the 1930s and 1940s.”

Threatte said more than anything else during the last two years, people have asked him or challenged him about the study, in which federal researchers studied the impact of untreated syphilis on a group of 400 infected Black men without their consent in Alabama from 1932 to 1972.

“This is why we shouldn’t get vaccinated,” skeptics tell him.

There was no vaccine or any other treatment administered in the Tuskegee study, Threatte said, even when treatment became available in the 1940s. That was the true crime, he said.

“To me, that’s just one early example of what we still see today, where a lack of access to health care occurs in poor communities and leads to health care disparities. You have medical deserts in poor communities because of poor Medicaid reimbursement rates. You hear politicians fighting against the Affordable Care Act.”

What bothers him the most, he said, is that Tuskegee has been appropriated by conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers to attack the COVID vaccine. 

He pointed to an ironic reversal for the Black community: Refusing to take treatment now because treatment was denied to them decades ago.

“It is a false narrative and the total opposite of what occurred,” he said. “I think it’s important that we think that through because this is Black History Month and those who don’t know their history are likely to repeat it.”

Healthcare providers of color have an important role, Clare said: They are more likely to be able to dispel myths surrounding vaccination because they can more easily win the trust of patients.

“For many of us, we are that trusted messenger,” Clare said.

Threatte added: “Black men, somehow it’s been pounded into our heads that seeking healthcare is a sign of weakness. Women will go get Pap smears, breast exams; getting Black men to do anything on time is practically impossible.”

Clare said: “It’s been shown that Black males that have a Black male doctor are more likely to get those interventions.”

And that’s another problem, she noted: Only 5% of U.S. physicians are Black.

Many of the social determinants that limit the Black community’s use of the health care system also limit access to medical school.

Threatte said his father and father-in-law served honorably in World War II and couldn’t take advantage of the GI Bill, the assistance program that proved transformative for so many young veterans when they returned to civilian life.

“Trust me, the GI Bill did not apply to them when they returned,” Threatte said.

LOCAL NUMBERS

The following state Department of Health data compare vaccination and population rates for racial groups as of Monday. 

An exact comparison is difficult, as not every vaccine recipient reports their race or ethnicity. Numbers total more 100% because Hispanic/Latino is categorized as an ethnicity, not a race.

The left column is the demographic group’s percentage of total county population over age 15, the right column is the group’s percentage of people in the county with at least one dose of vaccine: 

Albany County

  • White 77.8% 76.9% 
  • Black 13.2% 12.5%
  • Asian 6.6% 9.5%
  • Hispanic 5.6% 6.5%

Fulton County

  • White 95.6% 96.7%
  • Black 2.2% 1.7%
  • Asian 0.7% 1.0%
  • Hispanic 2.9% 4.4%

Montgomery County

  • White 93.9% 95.2%
  • Black 3.0% 2.7%
  • Asian 0.9% 1.3%
  • Hispanic 13.0% 11.1%

Saratoga County

  • White 93.6% 93.7%
  • Black 1.9% 1.8%
  • Asian 2.7% 3.8%
  • Hispanic 3.2% 3.1%

Schenectady County

  • White 79.7% 82.3%
  • Black 11.6% 8.2%
  • Asian 4.9% 7.8%
  • Hispanic 6.3% 5.7%

Schoharie County

  • White 95.9% 97.3%
  • Black 1.6% 1.1% 
  • Asian 0.8% 0.9%
  • Hispanic 3.2% 3.1%

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One Comment

Why do you have to make any person not choosing to get an experimental shot an issue of race. You can get one of these shots at your grocery store, without a prescription. But i guess you need to show ID, so thats racist like voterID to you as well, i’m sure.

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