Health

Racial differences in childhood vaccinations are difficult to track

The introduction of COVID-19 vaccinations for young children has highlighted another blind spot in the country’s efforts to close pandemic inequalities: health systems have released little data on the racial breakdown of youth vaccinations, and community leaders fear black and Hispanic children are lagging behind.

Only a few states have released data on COVID-19 vaccinations by race and age, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not compile racial breakdowns either.

Despite the lack of reliable data, public health officials and healthcare professionals are mindful of the differences and look to communities of color to overcome vaccine doubts. This includes going to schools, messaging in other languages, deploying mobile vaccination sites, and showing skeptical parents that vaccinations are safe and very effective.

Public health leaders believe racial inequality is due to work and transport barriers, as well as continuing resistance and information gaps. Parents who do not have transportation will find it more difficult to get their children to and from appointments. Those without flexible working hours or paid family leave may delay vaccinating their children because they will not be able to stay at home if children have to skip school with minor side effects.

The few places reporting childhood COVID-19 vaccines by race have varied breakdowns.

In Michigan, Connecticut, and Washington, DC, white children were vaccinated much more frequently than their black counterparts. But in New York City, white children ages 13 to 17 are less likely to be vaccinated than black, Hispanic, and Asian children.

In Connecticut, vaccination rates for children aged 12 to 17 in many wealthy, predominantly white cities are over 80%.

In Hartford, 39% of children aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. Across the city line in the West Hartford suburb, 88% of children of the same age are fully vaccinated, according to state figures updated in November.

The Hartford school system is 80% black and Hispanic. In West Hartford schools, 73% are White.

On Monday morning, parents who threw their children into Hartford’s diverse elementary school gave insight into the differing opinions on vaccinating children against COVID-19. More than 75% of Hispanics, Blacks and Asians attend the school.

Some expressed distrust of vaccines and did not plan to vaccinate their children. The rest were completely on board. One father was skeptical at first, but said reports from the school had convinced him of the benefits of vaccinations for students, including ending the full-time learning disruption.

Ed Brown said his 9-year-old son will be vaccinated because the boy’s mother is serious about it, although he still has some doubts. One of the results of his son’s vaccination, Brown says, is that he will vaccinate himself.

“I won’t give my son what I don’t know is safe,” said Brown, who is Black.

Another parent, Zachary Colon, said she is determined not to vaccinate her children.

“I am not vaccinating my son,” she said. “I read that it got FDA approval very quickly. I’m afraid they don’t know enough about it. “

Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, headmaster of Hartford’s schools, said the low vaccination rate among her students means more and more of them end up dropping out of school.

If vaccinated students come into contact with infected people, they can go to school if they do not show symptoms. Unvaccinated students must test negative in order to return immediately.

“This could be another hurdle for some of our families. Some of our families fail the test for various reasons and therefore have to wait seven to ten days. kept students at home, “she said.

In Washington, continued black resistance is reflected in low vaccination rates for black adolescents. The most recent data provided by the District of Columbia Department of Health shows that the full vaccination rate among black children aged 12 to 15 is just over half that of their white peers: 29 percent, up from 54 percent.

During a recent event to kick off the vaccination of children as young as 5, health director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt admitted that resistance has been difficult to overcome, despite months of public campaigns in the capital.

“People have to want to get vaccinated,” she said. “It’s not always an access issue. This is a problem of choice. “

In Seattle, Brown’s Odessa Children’s Hospital has begun hosting mobile clinics, offering vaccinations at home and providing information in multiple languages ​​for families who might not otherwise receive the vaccine for their children. About 40% of the clinic’s patients are black, 30% speak any language other than English, and 70% use Medicaid.

The Chicago Department of Public Health has planned to expand its home vaccination program to age 5 and older starting this week. The University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital and Loyola Medical Center west of Chicago were planning to send mobile pediatric vaccination units to underserved communities in the coming days.

The White House has made health equity a top priority, and its coronavirus task force said last week that the country has closed the racial gap between its 194 million fully vaccinated population. The Biden administration also said it is spending nearly $ 800 million to support organizations that seek to increase confidence in vaccines among communities of color and low-income Americans.

But federal, state, and local public health data tracking systems remain limited and underfunded, including racial tracking data in childhood vaccines, said Dr. George Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“We have not invested in a data system that we absolutely need for public health,” Benjamin said. “This is the fundamental failure of this system.”

According to Samantha Artig, program director for racial equality and health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, without widespread data on who gets vaccinated, it’s difficult to understand what differences might exist.

“Data is the key to getting a complete picture and understanding of where the differences are,” said Artiga. “They can be used to focus efforts and resources and then measure progress over time.”


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