Taeyo Suarez didn’t think he’d make it when he was assigned COVID-19 last year.
The New Orleans barbershop owner was hesitant to get the vaccine because he was afraid it would make him sick again. But as cases of the more transmissible delta variant began to spread, ravaging unvaccinated communities, he couldn’t bear the thought of his four children becoming ill.
So he rescheduled some of his clients at Kutt Kreatorz last Tuesday and received his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a pop-up event in an auto repair shop. Months into the nation’s unprecedented COVID-19 vaccination campaign, disparities in vaccinating underserved populations have been stark, with data showing that white people are getting the shot at a faster rate than Black and Hispanic people.
Experts believe that may be changing as fears rise in the wake of the new case surge and grassroots vaccination efforts begin to bear fruit.
According to the most recent CDC data, people of color have been vaccinated with a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a higher rate than white people over the last two weeks. Though race and ethnicity information is only available for about 60% of the U.S. population, experts say it shows a glimmer of promise.
While Hispanic and Latino people make up 17% of the population, they account for more than a quarter of those who began vaccination within the last two weeks. Similarly, Black people, who account for about 12% of the US population, accounted for 15% of those receiving a first dose.
During the same time period, as the number of new COVID-19 cases increased in areas with low vaccination rates, white people were underrepresented in the vaccine line. Although white people make up 61 percent of the population, 44 percent of those who started their first dose were white.
State-by-state analyses, such as those conducted by KFF, consistently revealed that white people were more likely to receive the shot than Black and Hispanic people. However, those gaps have been gradually closing over time, according to Artiga.
According to public health experts and clinicians, this could be an indication that grassroots efforts by community groups have been successful and should be continued. It worked for Jamel Godoy, 38, a recent Venezuelan immigrant. Godoy received his first dose during a Saturday vaccination event at La Unica Super Center Internacional, a popular South American grocery store in Greenville, South Carolina, where nearly 10% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
Godoy, who suffered from obesity and had recently undergone gastric bypass surgery, fled to the United States three months ago, fleeing political unrest in Venezuela, where COVID-19 vaccines are in short supply.
He learned about the vaccine event while driving his mother to a Prisma Health and PASOs, a local Latino health advocacy organization, mobile health unit. He says the group has been beneficial to his mother, who arrived in the United States three months before him.
Godoy works as a housekeeping assistant at a nearby hotel. Because Latinos are overrepresented in critical jobs in the Greenville area, getting a shot “becomes a little more complicated,” according to Rut Rivera, a community health worker and program manager at PASOs. Many work in the service, food, and agriculture industries, and their schedules make it difficult to take time off to get the shot. Rivera explained that this is why the organizations hold vaccination events on Saturdays.
CommuniVax, a COVID-19 vaccine equity coalition with teams in five states (Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Idaho, and California), has been working to improve vaccination campaigns among Black and Latino populations.
CommuniVax is co-chaired by Monica Schoch-Spanas, a medical anthropologist and senior scientist at the Center for Health Security. She stated that groups have found success with neighborhood-level partners and leaders who have built trust and inroads.
According to Schoch-Spanas, who specializes in epidemics and public health emergency preparedness, awareness of the highly contagious delta variant has also prompted vaccination, particularly among those who have taken a “wait-and-see” approach. Myriam Torres, an epidemiologist, is the director of the Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies at the University of South Carolina. She believes that raising awareness of specific barriers for Hispanic people, as well as local efforts such as those undertaken by PASOs to reach Spanish-speakers in rural areas of her state, have aided.