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COVID-19 vaccines have gone mostly to white Philadelphians. Here's what the city is doing to change that

Aubrey Whelan, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

PHILADELPHIA — As the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine ramps up across the country, Philadelphia data show that most of those vaccinated in the city are white, a trend reflected statewide.

The vaccine is still largely available only to health-care workers and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities; paramedics and EMTs in Philadelphia started receiving their first doses two weeks ago.

Philadelphia officials said Wednesday that of the 28,476 people who have been immunized at city health facilities, 43% were white, 12% were Black, 10% were Asian American, and 10% reported their race as "other." For the rest, race was unknown.

The city's population is about 34% white, 44% Black, 15% Hispanic, and 8% Asian American, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Philadelphia hospitals and health officials say they are working hard to get more residents of color vaccinated, especially because people of color are more likely to contract the virus and suffer serious complications.

The racial disparities in vaccine distribution are likely due to several factors, officials say, including the underrepresentation of people of color in the health-care industry; hesitancy among long-mistreated communities of color; and communication issues — such as a lack of regular access to email — that may disproportionately affect workers of color.

 

The city opened a mass vaccination clinic on Friday whose first aim is to vaccinate home health-care workers who aren't affiliated with a hospital — a population that's largely people of color.

"One of the ways to achieve health equity is by identifying and pulling out these job categories largely filled by people of color [and making sure they are offered the vaccine] — that's most evident in this essential workforce. These are people who have to come to work every day, and they often go under the radar," said Caroline Johnson, the city's acting deputy health commissioner.

Both Jefferson Health and Penn Medicine offered the vaccine to employees based on their risk of contracting COVID-19, not by job title.

"It doesn't matter if you're a doctor, or someone who's in security, or in dietary, or dining service," said Jaya Aysola, executive director of Penn's Center for Health Equity Advancement. "Your high-risk status is based on exposure to patients, not your position."

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