JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Since last March, Black and Hispanic communities have experienced disproportionate health impacts related to COVID-19, higher rates of infection, illness, and death. State-reported data in Florida shows those communities are receiving smaller shares of the COVID-19 vaccines, too.
The vaccination rate for Hispanic people in Florida is a quarter that of white Floridians and the gap for Black Floridians is larger, according to Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis of state-reported vaccine data. Black Floridians make up 16% of the population in Florida, but only 8% of those vaccinated in Florida are Black. Similarly, Hispanic people make up 27% of the population and 21% of those vaccinated.
Samantha Artiga leads the KFF’s program on racial equity and health policy. Artiga says the data points to the importance of prioritizing equity in vaccination efforts.
“People of color may be facing increased barriers to getting the vaccines. For example, if they have more limited access to resources to navigate online signup options, if they have more limited transportation options,” said Artiga. “Among the Hispanic population, they may be more likely to be facing additional access barriers, including linguistic-related barriers, as well as potential fears or confusion around eligibility for immigrants, for the vaccine.”
Florida’s public heath officials have made attempts to reach underserved communities. The Florida Division of Emergency Management says it has vaccinated nearly 91,000 people at places of worship, many of which were predominately Black congregations.
This March, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said it vaccinated more than 9,000 seniors at HUD housing in Florida for the elderly although, it was later discovered that similar on-site vaccine clinics were not initially offered to the City of Jacksonville Public Housing Authority properties where more than 700 seniors live.
In a tweet Sunday, Jared Moskowitz, the director emergency management,
Director of Florida’s Emergency Management Division Jared Moskowitz said:
More must be done @FLSERT. Early engagement with black pastors worked, we thank them. The work is not done. This Pandemic has exposed the health inequities in the black community. Elected leaders must address these issues long term. https://t.co/YZgXIMGXU8— Jared MASKowitz 😷 (@JaredEMoskowitz) April 18, 2021
In Jacksonville, the Florida Division of Emergency Management placed its federally supported vaccination site on Jacksonville’s Northside. It also opened a vaccination location, marketed as a health equity location, at Edward Waters College, a historically Black school.
Mia Jones is the CEO of nonprofit health center Agape Family Health. Since February, the nonprofit has been helping to run the state vaccination site at EWC.
In the months since it has been open, it has also partnered with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to bring mobile vaccine clinics to different communities.
The mobile clinics went to the Jacksonville Housing Authority’s senior housing after Jones saw a News4Jax report showing the agency had not been offered a vaccine clinic from the state.
Jones says since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine that fewer people are coming to the vaccine clinic.
“Right now, we are really in need of educating more and more people. I think the first wave we had come through, I think those were the people eager and ready for it, and right now we are at that next group where we need to educate them,” Jones said.
Jones says part of that is going into underserved communities and addressing their concerns.
“We did an event yesterday where we were with the Hispanic community. We recognized that they had a lot of questions. So, we had people there to answer their questions,” said Jones. “For that group, it was concerns about being a citizen and not knowing if they did that -- got a vaccine -- if that would get them in trouble.
“We help them to understand that’s not the purpose of this. The purpose of this is to make sure we keep our community healthy. They are here. They are in the community. They are working.”
Artiga says collecting data is a key step in working toward equity, saying “You can’t address what we cannot see.” But Artiga says it is challenging to get a complete national picture of vaccination rates by race and ethnicity using state-reported data.
“There remain a lot of gaps in the data that are being reported, we still have a couple of states that are not reporting vaccination data by race and ethnicity. But even more challenging is the lack of consistency in how states are reporting their demographic data for vaccinations, particularly their racial and ethnic data,” said Artiga.
One of the gaps Artiga points out is the relatively high number of people reported with “unknown” or “missing” ethnicity, as well as the different ways states combine ethnicities in public data reports.
The Florida Department of Health separately reports the number of Black, Hispanic and white people who have been vaccinated thus far. It combines Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups into one category. American Indian and Alaskan populations are also counted together in state vaccination reports. As of April 19, roughly 1.2 million people vaccinated in Florida had their race listed as “unknown.”
“We see it in the national level data reported by the CDC, which has consistently shown roughly about half of vaccination data is missing information on race ethnicity, the state-reported data has somewhat more complete race, ethnicity data, but the completeness does vary across states,” said Artiga.
“This again points to really the importance of having not only comprehensive and high-quality data, but data that’s really disaggregated to fully understand the experiences of different population groups, including smaller population groups and sub populations, who we often lack data to really understand their experiences, which really does leave them invisible in the data and makes it more challenging to address equity.”