Show an ad over header. AMP

Coronavirus vaccine line-jumping exacerbates disparities

Failing to put the most vulnerable Americans at the front of the line for coronavirus vaccines will exacerbate the gaping racial and ethnic disparities that have characterized the pandemic, experts say.

Why it matters: The Americans most vulnerable to the virus are disproportionately people of color. And there are a lot of reasons to doubt that vulnerable people will actually end up getting their shots first, despite some efforts to make that happen.


The big picture: The U.S. has spent months debating the order in which people should be vaccinated, beginning with health care workers and nursing home residents, then broadening out to account for risk factors like age, pre-existing conditions and front-line employment.

  • Both states and the federal government have incorporated equity into their vaccine distribution plans, a nod to the pervasiveness of pandemic disparities.
  • But there won't be many good ways to enforce those priorities, in practice. Adherence will largely depend on an the honor system.

Perhaps even more threatening is that vulnerable populations tend to be harder to reach and more hesitant about receiving the vaccine.

  • Experts say that if these obstacles aren’t addressed early, the most vulnerable Americans — specifically people of color — will be left behind once again.
  • “The attention to this theme is because we all are nervous about those disparities persisting,” said Utibe Essien, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

What they’re saying: “If we’re sincere about prioritizing groups, we want to make sure the prioritized groups also take the vaccine,” said Harald Schmidt, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. “This is a piece we haven’t actually done yet.”

  • Rural Americans, Black Americans and essential workers have some of the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy in the country, according to recent KFF polling.
  • Reaching Black Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be essential workers, is particularly difficult due to decades of racism within the health system, experts say.

Zoom in: Experts say there are some practical ways to preserve the order of the line.

  • Ease of access is key. It’s important to make sure that “there are a lot more vaccines where worse-off people live,” Schmidt said.
  • And those vaccines need to be administered in a setting that vulnerable people can comfortably access, like a local church. “We can ensure that folks don’t have to go to the hospital to get their COVID vaccine,” Essien said. “Making the right choice the easy choice is something we’ll have to continue to deal with.”

The bottom line: “This is a generation defining event,” Schmidt said. “If we don’t seize that opportunity, the damage could be significant and lasting.”

Scoop: Google is investigating the actions of another top AI ethicist

Google is investigating recent actions by Margaret Mitchell, who helps lead the company's ethical AI team, Axios has confirmed.

Why it matters: The probe follows the forced exit of Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher also on the AI ethics team at Google whose ouster ignited a firestorm among Google employees.

Keep reading... Show less

Incoming White House plans extraordinary steps to protect Biden from COVID-19

The incoming administration is planning extraordinary steps to protect its most prized commodity, Joe Biden, including requiring daily employee COVID tests and N95 masks at all times, according to new guidance sent to some incoming employees Tuesday.

Why it matters: The president-elect is 78 years old and therefore a high risk for the virus and its worst effects, despite having received the vaccine. While President Trump's team was nonchalant about COVID protocols — leading to several super-spreader episodes — the new rules will apply to all White House aides in "high proximity to principals."

Keep reading... Show less

Justice Department drops insider trading inquiry against Sen. Richard Burr

The Department of Justice told Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) on Tuesday that it will not move forward with insider trading charges against him.

Why it matters: The decision, first reported by the New York Times, effectively ends the DOJ's investigation into the senator's stock sell-off that occurred after multiple lawmakers were briefed about the coronavirus' potential economic toll. Burr subsequently stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Keep reading... Show less

Netflix tops 200 million global subscribers

Netflix said that it added another 8.5 million global subscribers last quarter, bringing its total number of paid subscribers globally to more than 200 million.

The big picture: Positive fourth quarter results show Netflix's resiliency, despite increased competition and pandemic-related production headwinds.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden's Treasury pick plays down debt, tax hikes during hearing

Janet Yellen, Biden's pick to lead the Treasury Department, pushed back against two key concerns from Republican senators at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday: the country's debt and the incoming administration's plans to eventually raise taxes.

Driving the news: Yellen — who's expected to win confirmation — said spending big now will prevent the U.S. from having to dig out of a deeper hole later. She also said the Biden administration's priority right now is coronavirus relief, not raising taxes.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump gives farewell address: "We did what we came here to do"

President Trump will give a farewell video address on Tuesday, saying that his administration "did what we came here to do – and so much more."

Why it matters: Via Axios' Alayna Treene, the address is very different from the Trump we've seen in his final weeks as president — one who has been refusing to accept his loss, who peddled conspiracy theories that fueled the attack on the Capitol, and who is boycotting his successor's inauguration. 

Keep reading... Show less

Europeans have high hopes for Joe Biden

Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Joe Biden's inauguration will be greeted with enthusiasm in Europe, with three new polls making clear that most Europeans can't wait to bid Donald Trump adieu.

The big picture: Europeans generally expect brighter days ahead under Biden, according to the polls, but his election has not fully assuaged doubts about U.S. democracy and global leadership.

Keep reading... Show less

U.S. surpasses 400,000 coronavirus deaths on Trump's final full day in office

Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Over 400,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Tuesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

Why it matters: It only took a little over a month for the U.S. to reach this mass casualty after 300,000 COVID deaths were reported last month. That's over 100,000 fatalities in 36 days.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories