Florida’s racial disparities in administering the COVID-19 vaccines hasn’t budged in the last few weeks, with whites 2.7 times as likely to be vaccinated as Black residents.
No county has seen Black residents more likely to receive a vaccine than white residents.
Duval, however, has seen its rates fall to 2.2 times, just more than double, still an extraordinary disparity but nowhere near as bad as other counties.
In Palm Beach, for instance, whites were more than six times as likely to be vaccinated as Black residents, and the disparity has shown no sign of falling.
In Pinellas, one of the counties that started out with a relatively low disparity, the rate has increased over time.
Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Stefan Baral told me that the disparity in vaccination rates shouldn’t be attributed primarily to higher rates of vaccine hesitancy among non-white communities. Instead, he said messaging and implementation throughout the country have been geared away from working-class minority communities.
“A lot of the messaging has been oriented toward higher-income folks,” he said.
As an example, Florida partnered with Publix to distribute vaccines at its grocery stores, even though the stores are frequently located primarily in high-income neighborhoods and avoid majority-Black neighborhoods.
The Division of Emergency Management refused to answer questions about its vaccine distribution plan.
“We’ve kind of lost our roots a little bit in public health with community-led programming,” Baral said. He pointed to studies that showed the vaccination effort during the H1N1 swine flu furthered disparities between Black and white health outcomes. “We didn’t consider the needs of shift workers, people with busy households, etc.”
He said that an obsession with data — tracking how many people have gotten vaccinated — can contribute to the problem.
About 9 percent of Floridians have received at least one vaccine dose. But he said it’s relatively easy to vaccinate a large share of people without considering whether you’re reaching people more likely to spread the virus, like those who have a harder time isolating or who can’t work from home or who live in multi-generational houses.
“They’re going to be given targets. You need to vaccinate X number of people, and they’ll vaccinate those people. You’ll be vaccinating the easiest to target people. That’s what happened with H1N1. … It worsened disparities.”
“It’s not that hard to imagine a scenario where you truly vaccinated mostly white, higher-income folks and professions like health care — I’m a frontline healthcare worker — and not have a significant bump in what was happening in multi-generational households and Amazon distribution centers where those folks live in multi-generational households.”
To Jacksonville’s credit (along with some other communities, including Miami), there has been an explicit acknowledgment by leaders, including Mayor Lenny Curry, that more must be done to reach Black residents.
Duval has also vaccinated the second-largest share of the older population of the state’s major counties.
Vaccines have been distributed at Black-majority churches and senior centers in Jacksonville, a key step to relying on trusted partners, Baral said. To really get to the communities with the highest mortality rates, he said, communities need to be willing to not just giving the vaccines to whoever can wait in line all day at a Publix.
Duval’s wealthy suburbs, Nassau to the north and St. Johns to the south, have reached 13 percent and 15 percent vaccination rates.
Even as the state vaccination rate has increased in the last week, Duval’s has slowed to 7,600 people vaccinated in the last week.
About one in three people 65 or older have been vaccinated in Florida, but just 26 percent of older residents in Hillsborough County (Tampa) have been vaccinated, while Duval (Jacksonville) is at 41 percent.
COVID-19 / Tributary Updates
I spent two weeks isolating in bed as I recovered from the coronavirus. While I avoided some of the worst symptoms and didn’t need hospitalization, it took a month for me to make it through a full week able to work each day. I still find I have less energy than I used to, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to run again without wheezing.
But I am trying to run full steam ahead to catch up on work, setting up the nonprofit and securing funding. I hope to have more news to share next week on that front.
In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has subscribed and made this possible so far. I’m looking forward to our official launch later this year.
Later this week, I’ll have a look back at the downfall of former Public Defender Matt Shirk.