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  • Writer's pictureAlex Nelson

Some states using race to determine place in line for vaccine; Alabama's plan unclear

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are now being distributed and administered across the country, primarily to frontline healthcare workers, nursing home patients, and

at-risk elderly people. But who comes next? States are grappling with how to address CDC guidance urging states to consider racial minorities as a vulnerable group in their vaccine distribution plans.

Some states have detailed plans to target minority communities to ensure equitable

access to the vaccine, but Alabama’s plan only provides that the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) will “monitor vaccinations administered to understand current saturation based on available information on vaccine distributed and by county characteristics (e.g. race, high risk population, current COVID outbreak areas, etc).”

According to the Daily Mail, about half the states are giving greater preference to minority communities during the initial months of the vaccine, including California, which has committed to ensuring Black and Hispanic communities have greater access to the vaccine. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Tennessee is taking a portion of each vaccination shipment it receives and sending it directly to high poverty areas, those with limited access to housing, and other factors linked to the disproportionate toll on communities of color.

Southern states have a long history of unequal access to health care, housing and nutritional needs that primarily impact poor and minority communities, raising concerns about equitable distribution of the vaccine. While states have the power to modify the non-binding guidance from the CDC, they must include and account for these inequities in their plans said J. Nadine Gracia, deputy assistant secretary for minority health under President Barack Obama. It is a “moral and economic imperative,” said Gracia.

In Alabama, after essential frontline workers and Americans over the age of 75 have had a chance to get a vaccine, people over the age of 65, those over the age of 16 at high risk due to medical conditions, and non-frontline essential workers are next in line to receive the vaccine. High-risk conditions include obesity, sickle cell disease, cancer, and COPD. According to CDC guidance, non-frontline essential workers include those who work in food service, logistics and transportation, the legal industry, and housing employees. Some experts believe the high percentage of minority workers making up the food service and transportation sectors could help close the equity gap in who receives the vaccination. Governor Ivey received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday as the pandemic

continues to spread in the state. The ADPH said that 50 percent would go to hospital workers, 15 percent to EMS providers, 15 percent for physician offices, and 20 percent for other healthcare and hospital staff. Multiple Alabama hospitals, including Cullman and Huntsville, are at or over capacity in their ICU units due to COVID-19 as officials brace for another surge after the Christmas holiday.

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