Covid, Race, and the Revolution

Vaccine equity now, a policy revolution for families, reshaping banks for equitable recovery, and more, in Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 43. March 10, 2021

Vaccine Equity Now!

By Rachel Gichinga

After suffering 525,000 Covid-19 deaths and 29 million infections, the nation is turning the corner on the pandemic and there is a deep sense of relief. The pace of vaccination is speeding up. Every state now offers vaccines to K-12 teachers, and President Biden has promised shots for all adults by mid-May. Hospitalizations are way down. Federal health officials just announced that fully vaccinated people can safely get together indoors — without masks.

But cities and states continue to lag in vaccinating the populations that have borne the brunt of illness and death and don’t have the luxury of working at home. In Washington, DC, for instance, Black residents make up 45 percent of the population, 49 percent of infections, and 76 percent of deaths, but only 26 percent of vaccinations. The Latinx population has been vaccinated at half the rate of the White population. 

The pattern is repeated across the country.  While for some the shots offer a return to recreation, family celebrations, leisure, and the promise of vaxication, for the millions of essential and other low-income workers of color, especially women, people with disabilities, and transgender and LGBTQ communities of color, vaccination is a lifeline.

Grassroots groups and faith leaders have mobilized efforts to connect vulnerable people to vaccine sites and to bring sites to the people. Eight teachers in Maryland formed a group, Vaccine Hunters, or Las Caza Vacunas, and spend lunch hours and breaks scheduling shots for elders who don’t have access to the technology to navigate complicated appointment websites.  A network running from a Bronx medical center to a community board to a pastor has helped hundreds of Black seniors get quick access to vaccines, offering a model to a city that has been slow to engage trusted neighborhood leaders in outreach or to enlist community clinics as vaccine sites. 

Equitable public policy is needed immediately to bring efforts like this to scale and reverse racial gaps across the board. California has taken a major step in the right direction, with the recent commitment to set aside 40 percent of vaccine doses for the hardest-hit communities. The state has also established a vaccine equity metric, which seeks to increase vaccination in those communities, as a prelude to adjusting the blueprint that governs reopening decisions, according to information provided by the state government. Under the modified Blueprint for a Safer Economy, inoculation rates in hard-hit communities will be a factor in allowing counties to ease Covid restrictions.

Connecticut has asked vaccine providers to commit at least one-quarter of vaccines to 50 high-poverty zip codes. Maryland announced its mass vaccination site in Baltimore will fill as many appointments as possible with residents of six zip codes that have high rates of poverty, unemployment, and Covid cases, and pledged to do “aggressive community engagement” and public education to encourage residents to come. Cherokee Nation has moved into Phase 3 of the distribution plan, in which everyone over 16 from federally recognized tribes are eligible to receive the vaccine. 

As the country begins to reopen, we must prioritize vaccinations for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous seniors and people who live in crowded or multigenerational housing; rely on public transit; or send their children to underresourced, poorly ventilated public schools. An equitable and sustainable recovery is incumbent upon centering those who have been made most vulnerable. This work will take resolve, investment, compassion, a racial and ethnic consciousness, an unwavering commitment to fairness, and radical imagination.

Rachel Gichinga is the Manager of the Office of the Founder in Residence.

News, Analysis, and Commentary, Curated from Around the Web

Accessibility and eligibility

A groundbreaking effort in California’s Coachella Valley is bringing coronavirus vaccines to farmworkers at pop-up clinics in the fields, hosted by growers and run by the local health department, the New York Times reports. A growing number of states have announced plans to vaccinate farmworkers, who have been designated as essential and hit hard by the virus. But some states are throwing up barriers such as residency requirements and in Nebraska, where immigrants are the mainstay of meatpacking plants, people without legal status are at the very end of the vaccine line.

Left Behind, a series at the Center for Health Journalism, examines the obstacles to vaccination for people with chronic diseases. Chinyere Amobi has lupus and an autoimmune disorder, which put her at higher risk of severe Covid complications but were not included on the state’s list of vaccine-eligible ailments. The pandemic, she writes, reveals society’s disregard for people with chronic health problems. “Ironically, the fact that I work for a university will make me eligible for vaccination before my status as someone living with serious chronic conditions.”  

At least 37 states allow people with certain medical conditions to get vaccinated, but the list of which ones qualify varies widely, according to the New York Times.

Many Covid vaccination registration websites lack accessibility features in violation of federal disability rights law, making it hard for people with blindness and other visual impairments to sign up, a Kaiser Health News investigation finds.

Health experts celebrated the authorization of a third vaccine, by Johnson & Johnson. It’s easier to store and doesn’t require a booster shot, making it more practical for hard-to-reach and marginalized communities and mobile and community clinics. But targeting certain communities could fuel mistrust and perceptions of a two-class system, the Washington Post reports. Clinical trials showed its overall efficacy to be 66 percent, compared with over 90 percent for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, though head-to-head comparisons are difficult, as they were all tested under different circumstances. 

Adding to the confusion, Catholic bishops have offered conflicting guidance on whether it’s morally objectionable to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which uses lab-grown cells derived from fetal tissue from abortions decades ago, or more objectionable to refuse this lifesaving shot, and means of ending the pandemic. On The Conversation, researchers Tinglong Dai, Christopher Tang, and Ho-Yin Mak explain the religious controversy and parse the data and urge states to be aggressive in addressing concerns, rumors, and fears.

Meanwhile, health officials offer a clear bottom line: the best vaccine is the one you can get as soon as possible. "All three of them are really quite good, and people should take the one that's most available to them," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Center for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tells NBC's Meet the Press.

A policy revolution 

The $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package expected to be signed by the president this week marks a “policy revolution in aid for children” — direct monthly payments to families of up to $300 per child, the New York Times writes.  More than 93 percent of children qualify for the one-year benefit. If it becomes permanent it would be the biggest boost to the safety net in years. The podcast The Daily explores what makes this provision a game-changer.

The bill also will deliver $1,400 checks to most Americans, increase unemployment insurance, provide desperately needed funds to state and local governments and schools, and make it more affordable to buy health insurance through Obamacare marketplaces. 

A landmark provision that has gotten far less attention will forgive debt for farmers of color, who have been shackled by debt and robbed of wealth because they’ve largely been excluded from federal loans and agricultural support programs, The Root reports. Freshman Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia drove the effort to get the $5 billion initiative into the bill.

Reimagining banking for equitable recovery

Accelerated vaccine distribution and the historic relief package spurred optimism for the nation’s economic recovery. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development projects a 6.5 percent US growth this year, doubling the forecast it made in December, Reuters reports. But the boost has not translated into employment gains for women of color, making intentional equitable recovery strategies all the more urgent. Fewer Black and Latinx women are now working than any other demographic, finds a New York Times analysis. Older and younger workers have also suffered disproportionate job losses, though younger people are returning to work faster. The 25 percent of US workers who earn $13.67 an hour or less lost 2 million jobs, while the top 25 percent of earners gained jobs.

In the face of massive losses of jobs and small business — some 41 percent of Black-owned businesses closed in the past year — cities and states are devising new ways to get capital into the hands of people who most need it, Next City reports. California has agreed to eliminate credit-score minimums, collateral requirements, and Social Security number requirements for the small business loans it backstops, requirements that pose barriers for entrepreneurs of color and immigrants. Albuquerque got more serious about contracting with local suppliers, helping them survive the toughest months of the pandemic. Some progressive legislators and advocates say new public banks could not only make the economic recovery more equitable but also inspire a bold reimagining of the banking sector to be more responsive to community needs for credit and committed to providing wealth-building opportunities for all.

Continuing to educate the public

Stay Covered Together, a national public education campaign created by the Harlem Children’s Zone, aims to drive awareness about the importance of wearing masks to stay safe from Covid and protect one another. The NAACP, StriveTogether, and PolicyLink, along with respected community organizations across the country, are partners in the effort to protect communities most impacted by the devastating effects of the virus — communities challenged by poverty and economic insecurity — by enlisting everyone to play a part. 

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We hope you find this series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a non-profit organization, PolicyLink is honored to provide resources to support the needs of our nation's 100 million economically insecure individuals. Generous partners like you make our work possible. 

Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell are grateful for the contributions of Fran Smith, Milly Hawk Daniel, Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Jennifer Pinto, Heather Tamir, Ana Louie, Janet Dickerson, and Mark Jones to produce the COVID-19 & Race commentary.