Alabama works to improve COVID-19 vaccine equity as the rollout continues

As of Friday, February 12, 11.1 percent of all vaccinations in the state went to Black Alabamians.

Posted: Feb 13, 2021 12:08 AM

As the State of Alabama wrapped up a week of mass vaccination clinics, thousands of people received thier first dose of either the Pfizer or the Moderna-manufactured vaccines. 

Among them were Kiietti and Arbie Parker. They said it was a pleasant surprise when they learned that they would be able to get their shots this week.

Kiietti and Arbie Parker pose after receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer and BioNTech. The couple got their shots during the final day of the mass vaccination clinic at John Hunt Park. (Courtesy: Arbie Parker) Kiietti and Arbie Parker pose after receiving their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer and BioNTech. The couple got their shots during the final day of the mass vaccination clinic at John Hunt Park. (Courtesy: Arbie Parker)

"Based off of just how this past year has gone, and just how things seemed to be very unorganized, I really thought that it would be a lot later," Kiietti said.

But it was their jobs, education and manufacturing, that put them in the 1B eligibility group. That's something that Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said was intentional.

He pointed to the fact that group 1B represents more racial diversity than group 1A.

"Part of the racial disparity we're seeing in our vaccination rates is because of who we've targeted, in a way. If you start off with health care workers, in many cases, people of color are just under represented in that group," Dr. Harris said.

That disparity is reflected in the demographic numbers released by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) starting on Wednesday.

As of Friday, only 11.1 percent of all vaccines were given to those in Alabama's Black community. That's up slightly from the 10.8 percent reported on Wednesday. It's also notably higher than the 6 percent reported nationally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

However, U.S. Census data shows that Black residents make up 26.8 percent of Alabama's population and only 13.4 percent of the U.S. population. 

The latest data from ADPH shows that Black people in the state account for 27.9 percent of all COVID-related deaths in the state and 21 percent of cases. For 27.8 percent of all cases the race of the patient is not known. 

Similarly, 29 percent of the vaccinations that have been administered so far have no racial data connected to them and for 3.5 percent of vaccinations, the race is listed as "Unknown."

Dr. Karen Landers, the Northern Public Health District Medical Officer for ADPH, said that historically, racial data wasn't collected when it came to vaccines. She noted on Friday that the office's IT department is working to ramp up collection of that data to help reach under-served communities.

She said there is also the potential to fill in some of the missing gaps in racial demographic information.

"We should be able to capture this data on the second dose. But I think that an equally important issue is to continue to build vaccine confidence within the African-American community and other minority communities," Dr. Landers said.

In addition to increasing confidence in the vaccine, Dr. Harris said they are also working to reach people where they are physically. He said that's partly why the federal government in partnership with Walmart decided on the particular locations that were announced this week.

"They looked at areas where they had certain amounts of disease transmission going on, just historical data over the past few months. And I know they got a lot of input from the feds about equity issues and making sure they're reaching areas where they don't have other access to vaccine," Dr. Harris said.

Officials with Huntsville Hospital also told WAAY 31 on Friday that they are planning to go to under-served areas when they have enough vaccine to do so. A rough timeline of when that might happen was not immediately available.

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