RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia is lagging behind when it comes to tracking COVID-19 vaccinations by race and ethnicity compared to other states, according to public health data.
Virginia is one of only 17 states that were publicly reporting COVID-19 vaccination data by race and ethnicity as of last week, but the state’s COVID-19 website indicates that race and ethnicity data has not been reported for more than half of the roughly 475,000 people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Virginia public health officials have said they will distribute the vaccine equitably, but researchers say that goal will be difficult to achieve without accounting for demographic data.
Black and Latino workers make up nearly a third of the state’s health care work force, but account for only about 17% of vaccinations with race and ethnicity data reported as of Sunday. Whites accounts for about 71% of vaccinations for which race and ethnicity have been recorded.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, whose 110 hospitals have doled out more than 230,000 vaccines, did not answer a query on whether doctors at hospitals are asking patients about race or ethnicity and instead referred questions to public health officials.
Virginia Department of Health spokeswoman Erin Beard said the agency will not require vaccinators to report some demographics like race and ethnicity because it could prevent a provider from reporting a shot given. Beard said that the more information needed to document a vaccine in the state’s tracking system, the more likely the vaccine cannot be reported.
“VDH’s goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible, and we do not want to turn away any person because they did not provide supplementary data,” Beard said.
While more than half of the reported vaccinations in Virginia do not include race or demographic data, the percentage is somewhat less in Delaware, with no such demographic data for 35% of doses administered. In Maryland, racial data is missing for about 6% of vaccinations administered, and ethnic data for about 13%. North Carolina, meanwhile, has recorded race and ethnicity data for all of its vaccinations, according to the state’s vaccine website.
Nakeina Douglas-Glenn, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in race and social equity, said the lack of data collection in Virginia shows why mistrust in health care systems and government agencies is so ingrained.
Virginia Health Secretary Dan Carey told lawmakers at a health committee meeting last week that he expects a “dramatic improvement” over the next two weeks and assured that Virginia is “walking the walk” in getting vaccines to historically discriminated-against groups.