WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined 19 of his colleagues last week in demanding that the Trump administration develop a national vaccine distribution strategy that both recognizes and addresses the alarming racial disparities in rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The senators’ letter follows the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) long-overdue guide to state, territorial, and local public health programs on how to plan for the distribution of a future coronavirus vaccine or vaccines—a 57-page document that only mentions communities of color in three sentences.
“The alarming disparities in rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are not coincidental. The divergent outcomes are directly linked to existing inequities and discriminatory federal, state, and local policies. Overrepresentation in frontline, essential jobs in which social distancing is more difficult, a disproportionate prevalence of preexisting health conditions, policies that lead to overcrowded and segregated housing, and reliance on public transportation, have placed communities of color at greater risk of COVID-19,” the senators wrote in their letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Communities of color—particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations—have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Latinx, Black, and Asian patients are more than twice as likely to test positive for the coronavirus as white patients. According to the CDC, more than 75 percent of coronavirus deaths among people under the age of 21 have been Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth. Overall, Black and Latinx individuals are more than three times as likely to die from COVID-19 when age is taken into account.
“We urge you to thoughtfully engage with communities of color to swiftly produce and publicly release supplemental guidance to the September 16 national vaccine distribution document that illustrates the agency’s efforts to address racial disparities during the distribution and monitoring of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine,” the senators continued. “The CDC must explicitly involve Black, Latinx, and Indigenous populations—as well as other communities of color—in the formation of robust public plans to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, we request further details on how the Trump administration intends to build trust, combat misinformation, and promote vaccinations within communities of color.”
“Communities of color in the United States deserve more than three sentences in your document. They deserve an equitable vaccine distribution plan that sufficiently responds to the unique health disparities within–and authentically builds trust with–their communities,” the letter concluded.
In July, Brown joined his Democratic colleagues in calling for Congress to provide at least $5.6 billion in federal funding to develop and support COVID-19 vaccine infrastructure. Brown also joined his colleagues in pushing the Trump administration to provide a detailed briefing to Congress and the American people regarding their strategy to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine as soon as on is available. Brown is a co-sponsor of the COVID-19 Bias and Anti-Racism Training Act, legislation to ensure health providers and other individuals involved in COVID-19 testing, treatment, vaccine distribution, and response receive bias and anti-racism training.
The letter was led by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and was also signed by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
The full text of the senators’ letter is available here and below.