Fewer Black Michiganians have received COVID vaccine, state officials say

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African Americans in Michigan are about twice as likely to not have received their two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine than those who are White, according to data the state has released.

State figures compared how many residents have initiated vaccination, meaning they had at least one dose, as well as completed vaccination, reflecting they received the recommended two doses.

White Michiganians have the highest initiation and completion rates (7.9% and 4.7%), followed by American Indian or Alaskan Native (5.4% and 2.8%), Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders (5.0% and 3.6%), followed by Black or African American residents (4.1% and 1.6%), according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The department reported the numbers for the first time Tuesday as a way to help track its efforts “to improve access to the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and ensure equity when it comes to protection from the virus,” representatives said in a statement.

“Ensuring those who are most vulnerable are protected by the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is a high priority for Michigan,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus, and improving the race and ethnicity data being collected for vaccinations is critical for ensuring the equitable administration of the vaccine. We will use this data to continue to drive our strategy towards making sure everyone has equitable access to the vaccines.”

According to data reported through Monday, 1,252,497 state residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. Of those, 547,163, or about 44%, did not have race information recorded, the health department said, adding that it is trying to decrease that proportion.

Ryan Malosh, assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said if 40% of vaccinations don’t identify the vaccinated by race, it’s difficult to say if the 4% of African Americans vaccinated is low and it’s tricker than it seems.

“Based on what we know about vaccine providers so far, it is likely that the disparity in vaccination by race is real, at least to some extent,” Malosh said. “As more providers start distributing vaccines — and especially as those providers tend to serve Black and Brown communities — I hope that we will see disparities come down. It’s important to note that even if their vaccine coverage was similar to their overall share of the population these communities were at higher risk for infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

The numbers show that of those vaccinated at least once:

  • 41.7% are White
  • 3.7% are Black
  • 1.1% are Asian or Pacific Islander
  • 0.3% are American Indian/Alaskan Native
  • 9.5% are listed as other

Before the vaccine rollout for state health care workers, seniors and others in the last two months, race and ethnicity information couldn’t be submitted as a data field to the Michigan Care Improvement Registry, officials said.

“A direct entry tool is now live and allows this information to be entered directly … and immunization providers across the state are asked to submit race data for all vaccines administered,” they said.

Some 85% of the race and ethnicity data reported to the registry comes from electronic medical records.

“We urge Michiganders to fill out race data questions on forms when they get their vaccine,” Khaldun said. “Knowing this information helps guide the state’s strategy and allows us to address any gaps as we move forward getting Michiganders protected from the virus.”

The vaccination data efforts follow others by the state to highlight the effect of the virus on minorities.

Michigan was among the first states to begin analyzing cases and deaths by race. In April, it found that 40% of those killed by the virus were African American, though Black individuals make up about 14% of the state’s population.

To close the gap, a state task force recommended distributing large quantities of masks, increased primary care provider and telehealth access, public health campaigns and targeted testing, and improved data quality on cases and deaths.

“The cumulative COVID-19 case rate has been 40% higher for Black Michiganders than white residents and the death rate for Black residents has been over three times the rate in white residents,” the health department said Tuesday. “The percent of vaccinated people who are Black has more than tripled between the first three weeksand the last week of vaccination (0.5% to 3.8%), but the proportion of vaccinated adults 16 and older who are Black is far lower than the proportion of Black residents in Michigan.”

Meanwhile, the state has launched a COVID-19 vaccination strategy seeking to vaccinate 70% of Michiganders age 16 and older.

That led to a pilot program aiming to remove vaccine barriers for those age 60 and older who live in communities with high Social Vulnerability Index, which includes factors such as socioeconomic status, and COVID-19 mortality rates.

The state also is distributing the vaccine to federally qualified health centers to ensure those at highest risk of serious COVID-19 complications — racial or ethnic minorities, or people with lower incomes or disabilities — are prioritized for vaccines.

Experts weigh in

Dr. Stephen Thomas, professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity, said “We are flying colorblind.”

Thomas said the Trump administration failed to get the process of racial identification for vaccinations started.

“I know you can’t change the past four years in four weeks, but the previous administration promised they would release the data by race and ethnicity, nationally, not this patchwork that we have right now,” he said. “It’s so sad because that’s still not happening.”

There should be a standardized practice across the country, Thomas said.

Thomas said if the inequalities are ignored, Michigan residents can expect that in a year from now residents will still be wearing masks, getting booster shots and continue fearing crowds. The solution, he says, is that Black people have to “mobilize to save ourselves.”

“We need to get into the church and mobilize communities to get people to get over their vaccine hesitancy. Make churches and barbershops the new health information portal to transform our own communities and own institutions,” he said.

Dr. Debra Furr-Holden, Michigan State University director of Division of Public Health and associate dean for public health integration, said the statistic is alarming, but not surprising.

Early in the pandemic, Michigan successfully closed the racial gap in COVID-19 cases and deaths, Furr-Holden said. She does not doubt the state will do the same with vaccine administration, “but there are things that must be addressed,” she said.

“That substantial proportion of missing information has to be addressed. We can’t possibly solve a problem that we can’t readily quantify. It’s an unacceptable and avoidable problem to have that much missing data,” said Furr-Holden, who also serves as director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions.

The gap is that there is no requirement, mandate or legislation requiring the collection of demographic data for people who are on the wait list or for people who are receiving the vaccine, she said. It is a “critical mistake that can and should be corrected right now,” Furr-Holden said.

This story originally appeared in the Detroit News and was written by Sarah Rawl and Mark Hicks.


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