Group urges tighter reporting on racial disparities in COVID vaccine distribution

States have been distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Credit: Marko Geber/Getty Images

Public health officials aren’t collecting enough data about how COVID vaccines are reaching minority communities, according to a lawyer’s group that is leaning on President Joe Biden to force state, local, and private vaccine distributors to fill “substantial gaps” in the numbers.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under the Law noted in a letter to the president on Tuesday that Biden had urged more attention to record keeping early in his administration but said the data remain spotty.

“This is about saving lives during one of the deadliest public health crises of our generation. Existing demographic data for COVID-19 vaccinations does not sufficiently capture disparities in distribution and access, ultimately failing our communities of color that are bearing the brunt of this pandemic,” said Natasha Chabria, associate counsel with committee.

“We need to collect race and ethnicity data to ensure that communities who are so often invisible in these conversations receive the support they need,” she said in a written statement.

The letter notes that Blacks account for 13.4 percent of the U.S. population but only about 7 percent of the fully vaccinated. Hispanics, representing 18.5 percent of the population, are 7.4 percent of the fully vaccinated.

“Data for Asian and Indigenous communities is too broad to accurately capture the impact on these groups. Though the available data is woefully incomplete, it tells the beginnings of a devastating story for communities of color,” the letter says.

“But there is still an important, yet untold, part of the story that only data can unlock. Public health officials need comprehensive, disaggregated data to be able to develop effective strategies to address the impacts of the pandemic and appropriately allocate resources to the communities most in need.”

The Biden administration can enforce such data collection requirements through agreements through which it supplies state officials with vaccines, Chabria said in a telephone interview.

“The problem is right now that the CDC’s requirements as part of that contract are pretty limited in terms of race and ethnicity data gathering. We want that contractual obligation to be expanded to include collection of disagregated data,” she said.

In Florida, according to state Department of Health data, Blacks comprise some 6.3 percent of people who have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine and Hispanics nearly 12.5 percent as of just after midnight on Monday. The data don’t break out Asian Americans as a distinct population.

Blacks comprise nearly 17 percent of the state’s population, Hispanics 26.4 percent, and Asians 3 percent, according to U.S. Census figures.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has been encouraging churches and other houses of worship to host vaccination pods to promote vaccines among minority communities.