RICHMOND, Va. -- Creating a fair COVID-19 vaccine distribution is top priority for the Virginia Department of Health, but missing data stands in the way of measuring equity.
Richmond-Henrico Health District's Director of Health Equity, Jackie Lawrence, recognizes Virginia lags in reporting race and ethnicity data related to the coronavirus vaccine.
"We're definitely not the kind of government agency that's like, 'Oh, we're doing everything right,'" Lawrence said.
As of Feb. 7, more than 350,000 vaccinations, which is about 33% of total vaccinations recorded in the Commonwealth, did not include information on race and ethnicity.
While Lawrence believes the data will be reported eventually, she says one reason for the relay is that VDH was still building a system to track data when the vaccine rollout began.
"The systems and the really specific roles and tasks around ensuring that happens, came a little bit behind the actual vaccine systems," she said.
Of the numbers that are shown on VDH's website, White people account for about 72% of COVID-19 vaccinations, Black people account for 12%, and Latinos account for about 5%.
This is despite the fact that Blacks and Latinos combined make up nearly 48% of the state's COVID-19 hospitalizations and 31% of deaths.
Lawrence said several factors are causing the disparity when it comes to vaccinations.
"The first group that went was 1A, our healthcare workers. And so a majority of them are actually white individuals," Lawrence explained. "And two, we can't forget about vaccine hesitancy."
Lawrence said government mistrust and a lack of access to resources in minority communities also widen the gap.
That's why the health district recruits community leaders, like Pastor Ralph Hodge, from Second Baptist Church on Richmond's Southside, to help get vaccines to black families in underserved neighborhoods.
"When you look at Southside, we don't have a lot of pharmacies, we don't have a lot of small clinics," Hodge said. "So people getting to doctors' offices or pharmacies for that matter is hard."
Saturday, vaccinators set up several mobile clinics, including one at Second Baptist Church. That's where health officials bring resources and shots to low-income areas and ask community partners to bring out eligible people.
Hodge said while some congregation members were hesitant, it's wasn't difficult convincing them to come get a shot.
"Because people they know the church, they know our people, they trust us in the community," Hodge said.
Lawrence says while there's a lack of vaccine data on race and ethnicity, health officials fill in the holes with inference points to decide which zip codes they need to reach.
Also of note, it's not required for people to report their race and ethnicity to vaccinators if they don't want to.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid non-essential travel.