African-Americans are being vaccinated far more slowly than white people, according to data from the US public health body, even though they account for disproportionately high levels of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
Figures published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday show that while black people account for over 15 per cent of Covid-19 deaths, they only accounted for 5 per cent of the inoculations given during the first month of the vaccine programme.
The data add to concern at the top of the Biden administration that ethnic minorities, and black people in particular, are proving hard to reach for a number of reasons, including concerns about how safe the vaccines are.
The CDC’s report warned: “As the vaccination programme expands, it is critical to ensure efficient and equitable administration to persons in each successive vaccine priority category, especially those at highest risk for infection and severe health outcomes.”
Marcella Nunez-Smith, the head of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 equity task force, said: “There are a few reasons why we are already behind on this only a month and a half into the vaccine rollout: the lack of federal co-ordination previously; the uneven rollout among the states; inconsistent emphasis of equity in the earliest days of vaccination.”
Mr Biden entered office last month promising to speed up the US’s vaccination programme, which lags behind inoculation drives in Israel, the UK, Bahrain and the UAE.
But officials are becoming increasingly worried that in the scramble to inoculate as many people as possible, some of the most vulnerable members of society are being missed out.
African-Americans have been hit disproportionately hard by Covid-19, in part because so many work in the healthcare industry. As a result, the CDC hoped that making healthcare workers among the first to get the vaccine would help tackle the racial inequalities the disease has exposed and exacerbated.
Experts warn however that many African-Americans are concerned about the safety of the vaccine and suspicious of public health experts who try to persuade them to take it.
One of the reasons is the memory of scandals such as the Tuskegee experiment, where US public health officials allowed syphilis to spread untreated among black American men to monitor how the disease progressed.
The CDC’s data also suggest “vaccine hesitancy” might be high among care home staff. A separate report also published on Monday showed that in nursing homes which had held at least one vaccination clinic, nearly 80 per cent of residents had been inoculated, but less than 40 per cent of staff.
While the Biden administration is trying to speed up the pace of vaccinations, especially in vulnerable populations, it is also trying to increase the number of coronavirus tests available.
Andy Slavitt, a senior White House coronavirus adviser, said on Monday the federal government had granted $230m to the Australian testing company Ellume to help make more over-the-counter tests that can be administered at home. The Food and Drug Administration approved the tests in December.