It’s time to end racial inequities in responding to COVID-19

Over a year into the pandemic, equitable progress has not been made to address the racial disparities in health outcomes that have existed and been exacerbated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In short, systemic racism made Black, Indigenous and Latinx/e communities deeply vulnerable to increased risk of illness, and as a result, we have seen disproportionate numbers of deaths from COVID-19 complications in Black, Indigenous and Latinx/e communities. It’s unacceptable and must be remedied in a timely and comprehensive manner.

In a letter addressed to city, county and state officials, AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) and Howard Brown Health – in partnership with nearly 100 organizations and individuals – called for equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution for people living with HIV and Black and Latinx/e communities by ensuring vaccine supply and the person power necessary to administer vaccines in these communities. In doing so, these levels of government would operationalize their stated goals around equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines in the communities most impacted by COVID-19 morbidity and mortality.

We accomplished our first ask, expanding vaccine access for people living with HIV, and now it’s time to renew focus on our second. After a year of seeing the devastating effects of systemic racism in how Black, Indigenous and Latinx/e communities grappled with COVID-19, city, county and state health officials have an opportunity to reduce racism-rooted inequities in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

AFC and Howard Brown demand that both Chicago and Illinois Departments of Public Health include and name all majority Black, Indigenous, and Latinx/e communities as priorities for vaccine distribution immediately.

The numbers make clear why Black and Latinx communities, in particular, must be given priority access to vaccines in Chicago and Illinois.

As WBEZ reported March 24, “weeks after Chicago released data showing most COVID-19 vaccine doses were going to white residents, the Illinois Department of Public Health released high-level data showing the same was true for the entire state.”

In Chicago, as of March 2021: 

  • Black and Latinx/e Chicagoans represent roughly 59% of the city’s population, but make up more than 70% of its COVID-19 deaths and just 54% of its vaccines administered 
  • White Chicagoans represent 33% of the city’s population, but make up just 23% of its COVID-19 deaths and 36% of its vaccines administered (Source) (Source)

And in Illinois, as of March 2021: 

  • Black and Latinx/e Illinoisans represent roughly 33% of the state’s population, but make up 34% of its COVID-19 deaths and just 18% of its vaccines administered
  • White Illinoisans represent 61% of the state’s population and make up 59% of its COVID-19 deaths and 68% of its vaccines administered (Source) (Source) 

For Indigenous communities, who have experienced ongoing genocide and racism, the lack of data about these communities is indicative of the need for each level of government to collaborate with tribal governments on COVID-19 vaccine support.

Ensuring equitable vaccine access directly impacts AFC’s and Howard Brown’s community. Black and Latinx/e people are impacted by HIV at the greatest rates in Chicago and are more likely to not be engaged in medical care for HIV. As a result, they are more likely to get seriously ill if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. Expanding vaccinations to Black and Latinx/e communities will be one of the fastest ways to expand COVID-19 vaccines to all people living with or vulnerable to HIV.

Ensuring equitable vaccine access in Black, Indigenous, and Latinx/e communities also benefits all communities. Increasing vaccination rates in communities that are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission is an essential strategy for stemming the tide of new infections, and ultimately bringing an end to the pandemic in Chicago and Illinois.

While Chicago’s Protect Chicago Plus initiative has contributed to increased vaccine availability in BIPOC communities, more must be done to ensure true equitable vaccine distribution. Explicitly naming these communities as priority populations along with the other vulnerable populations listed in the vaccine distribution plan will help to ensure a lasting, intentional, and accountable commitment to equitable vaccine distribution to Black and Latinx/e communities throughout the rest of the pandemic.

To learn more about the importance of prioritizing Black, Indigenous and Latinx/e communities in the city, county and state’s COVID-19 vaccination approach, click below to read the full letters sent to City of Chicago, Cook County, and State officials.

Tags: Advocacy

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