Data Reveals Dramatic Gap Between COVID Vaccinations and COVID Deaths Among Latinos in L.A. County
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Data Reveals Dramatic Gap Between COVID Vaccinations and COVID Deaths Among Latinos in L.A. County

New numbers show that just 29% of the people receiving vaccines are Latinos, who account for 52% of L.A. County’s COVID deaths.


by Jessica Goodheart

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Last week, Los Angeles County’s top public health official called the death toll exacted on Latinos by the COVID pandemic “frankly horrifying.” But, at least so far, a population that has performed so much of the essential work that has kept the region’s economy going has been vastly underrepresented among those receiving vaccinations.

Preliminary data released by the county on Jan. 29 revealed that between the launch of the vaccination program on December 14 and Jan. 23, just 29% of the people receiving vaccines were Latino, while they make up 52% of COVID deaths in L.A. County, 47% of COVID cases and 49% of the county’s population. African Americans are likewise underrepresented among those receiving vaccines when compared to the rate at which they are dying. About 5% of the people receiving vaccines were Black, while Blacks make up 8% of the COVID deaths in the county, 4% of the cases and 8% of the population.

“There are likely to be inequities in the distribution for a variety of reasons, one being that some groups just may have a more difficult time accessing vaccination services.”

— Paul Simon, L.A. County Department of Public Health

Whites accounted for 30% of those vaccinated, compared to 23% of COVID deaths in the county, 10% of the cases and 26% of the population. Asians were also overrepresented among those receiving a vaccine, accounting for 23% of those who were vaccinated, while accounting for 13% of deaths from COVID in the county, 4% of the cases and 15% of the population.

 

Paul Simon, chief science officer for the L.A. County Department of Public Health, stressed that the data released during a question and answer session by the county was preliminary and reflected, in part, the county’s initial focus on inoculating those employed in health care. (The latter field includes a high proportion of Asian American workers.) The county has also prioritized those living in long-term care facilities and, more recently, those 65 and older.

This last group accounted for 28% of those vaccinated. Simon said to expect a more complete analysis later in the week. “We do know that there are likely to be inequities in the distribution for a variety of reasons, one being that some groups just may have a more difficult time accessing vaccination services. But we also know that there’s quite a bit of variation and hesitancy to be vaccinated across different groups as well,” he said.

As in the rest of the country, Los Angeles officials are racing to get a limited supply of shots in people’s arms while the death toll mounts and mutant strains of the virus make unwelcome appearances locally and across the globe. But the situation is especially dire in the nation’s most populous county, where more than 16,700 people have died from COVID — over 6,000 of them since the beginning of 2021. The county has administered more than 790,000 initial vaccine doses to date, with about a third occurring in the last two weeks.

Racial disparities between Blacks and whites have been a feature of the vaccine rollout throughout the country, according to recent reporting by the Associated Press. In California, advocates are blasting Gov. Gavin Newsom for prioritizing older residents over essential workers who are more likely to be exposed to the virus or live in overcrowded conditions. Newsom announced in January that people 65 and older could get COVID-19 vaccinations, which dramatically expanded the pool of eligible Californians while supplies in the state remained limited. “We are asking for equity in the way the vaccine is distributed,” South L.A. activist Najee Ali told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a life-or-death situation for Black and Latino essential workers.”

 

Polls and vaccination rates among health care workers show that African Americans are more wary of the COVID vaccine for reasons that experts say have to do with a long and fraught history with a discriminatory health care system. And undocumented immigrants, who were aggressively targeted by the Trump administration, may be scared of disclosing information to health officials as part of a vaccination process that entails a questionnaire and follow-up.

 

There are also many practical barriers facing poor and working class communities of color in Los Angeles that make accessing the vaccine difficult, particularly for the elderly, the disabled, and those who rely on public transportation. They include vaccination centers that are accessible only by car, long lines and appointments that must be booked online in a system that is often filled with bugs.

Simon said there is also a problem of vaccine-related misinformation coursing through the region. “You really have to do targeted communication to try to reach different groups and provide accurate information about the vaccines,” he said.

Sources: Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.

 

This story has been updated.

Copyright Capital & Main 2021