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Blacks and Hispanics are being short-changed on Covid-19 vaccines in Florida and elsewhere

   March 2, 2021 1:32 AM
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by Corky Siemaszko

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Not long after Florida began its rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, Black leaders and others began raising alarms that the first doses were finding their way into the arms of mostly white senior citizens who supported Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, while their hard-hit communities were left in the cold.

Now some numbers appear to support those suspicions.

Of the 34 states that shared vaccination data by race and ethnicity, Florida ranks near the bottom in the rate at which Black residents have been inoculated even as the community has suffered a disproportionate share of Covid-19 deaths, concluded Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. Using the most recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Jewett noted that while Blacks make up about 15 percent of the state's population and account for 16 percent of the Covid-19 deaths, the community has received just 6 percent of the shots so far.

"For vaccination equity for blacks, Florida ranks quite badly at 30th out of 34," Jewett said in an email.

Latinos in Florida have also been vaccinated more slowly, Jewett found. While they account for 27 percent of the population and 24 percent of deaths, they have gotten just 16 percent of the vaccinations, Jewett calculated.

"Some of the inequality for vaccines is simply because of the age disparity" in Florida's population, Jewett said. "A much higher percentage of whites are over the age of 65 compared to black and Hispanics whose population skews younger."

Still, Jewett said, "I think for a first look this analysis holds up and is defensible."

It also reflects the findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reported Monday that Blacks and Hispanics don't appear to be getting vaccinated nationwide at the same rate as white people.

Preliminary data from the CDC, culled from about half of the 12.9 million people vaccinated in the U.S. from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14, suggest that the Blacks and Hispanics in the first groups to get shots — health care workers and long-term nursing home residents — got a smaller share of the doses.

DeSantis, who did not respond to a request for comment about the apparent disparities in vaccination rates, vowed last week to enlist the help of Black churches to vaccinate more elderly African Americans.

"Churches that want to be involved in this program, we will absolutely work with them" DeSantis said. "We can get that teed up pretty quickly." That has done little to erase the perception that DeSantis is playing politics with vaccine distribution and that people of color are being sidelined.

"I feel that Gov. DeSantis is treating communities of color just as an afterthought," said state Rep. Omari Hardy, a Democrat whose mostly minority district includes parts of West Palm Beach and Delray Beach.

Nor, Hardy said, is he surprised by Jewett's findings or the CDC results. He said the vaccine distribution system seems to be designed to make it harder for elderly Black people to get inoculated.

"I know lots of elderly people in my community who are struggling to get vaccinated," Hardy said. "After we make an uproar, the governor throws a few vaccines at us at a church and then pats himself on the back. That's not right."

Charlotte County Democratic Party Chair Teresa Jenkins agreed.

"That's disgraceful," Jenkins said when told of Jewett's findings. "It certainly does confirm what we've maintained to be true — that the vaccines are going first to white-dominated areas."

Florida's numbers "don't lie," said former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, co-chair of the New York COVID Vaccine Task Force for Vaccine Equity and Education.

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