Public officials and labor leaders at a virtual town hall Wednesday urged continued efforts to vaccinate essential workers who are largely Black and Latino even as California reopened its economy this week, shedding pandemic-related mask mandates and capacity limits at most workplaces.
California officials have struggled to balance vaccination speed with equity, knowing that residents of ZIP codes hardest hit by the pandemic have a more difficult time getting to shots. Back in March, when vaccine supplies were still tight, Gov. Gavin Newsom started setting aside 40% of doses for people living in those vulnerable ZIP codes, which were largely in the state’s central valley and Los Angeles County.
Still, Black and Latino Californians continue to lag in vaccinations while Asian Americans are overrepresented, according to the state. Latinos are 39% of the vaccine eligible population but make up 28% of people who have received at least one shot while white residents, who are 38% of the eligible population, make up 36% of people vaccinated. Black residents are nearly 6% of the vaccine eligible population but account for 3.8% of people who have received at least one dose.
“We obviously have a long way to go. We laid the foundation, we’ve seen what works, and we’re learning what our next steps need to be to step it up even more on vaccine equity,” said Jim Mangia, president & CEO of St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles.
His community health clinic, which hosted Wednesday’s virtual town hall, purchased special freezers and set up call hotlines to reach out to its low-income patients even before the vaccine was available broadly, earning praise from public officials who acknowledged that government can be slow to move.
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, LA County’s public health director, said it’s not time to let up on vaccination efforts even with ample supply. While 66% of county residents have received at least one dose, Black and Latino residents still lag Asian Americans and white residents across age groups, the county said this week.
Half as many Black and Latino teens are getting vaccinated as white and Asian American teens. In the 18 to 29 age group, 25% of Black adults and 39% of Latino adults have been vaccinated, compared with 72% of Asian Americans and 55% of white adults.
“We have an inequity in who was vaccinated, and to turn a blind eye to the repercussions of that inequity would be a huge injustice,” said Ferrer, whose county has a quarter of California’s nearly 40 million residents.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, thanked equity advocates for continually pushing the administration, which was criticized for tapping insurer Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente to inoculate residents rather than turning to community health clinics to reach underserved populations.
He said 31% of all vaccines administered in California this week went to people living in the bottom quartile of neighborhoods based on metrics such as household income, education level and access to health care.