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    By Nicholas Morgan                                         Follow East Palo Alto Today on
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    February 25, 2021                                    EPA Today Facebook page Follow epatoday on Twitter EPA Today Blog Icon






    Life expectancy in the United States was found to have fallen in the last year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to recent data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

    This is the sharpest drop in Americans’ life expectancy in a single year since World War II and it is a sober reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken. Another reminder that was raised by this announcement was the unequal toll COVID-19 has had for communities of color in the U.S.

    Black Americans account for 39 percent of all COVID-19 cases and are experiencing a mortality rate twice as high as white Americans, a trend the CDC says is present with the higher positivity for the virus in these communities as well. Finally, the agency warns that Americans of color are more susceptible to the virus based on a variety of structural factors, too, including where they live and the occupations they predominate.

    This topic has come up through the course of pandemic, but it remains a front and center concern as the nation continues its vaccination campaign. At a panel hosted by Ethnic Media Services earlier this month, experts examined how these disparities are challenging communities of color looking to see a return to some normalcy.

    Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, authored a study on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and found some troubling disparities.

    “First and foremost, only 20 states in the United States right now are sharing data related to the racial background of those receiving vaccines,” said Dr. Turner-Lloveras, adding that requiring race data sharing should be a corrective measure that in turn helps reduce the wider disparities. 

    He also warned that as communities begin to reopen, authorities should be mindful of certain statistics. One example, Dr. Turner-Lloveras pointed to the particularly high number of Black and Latino Americans who serve as “essential workers” and who are the most involved with any economic reopening. Unfortunately, he warned vaccines are not being distributed fast enough to these groups.

    The lack of universal data is one problem, but it speaks to a larger set of structural problems that long contributed to racial disparities across the U.S economy. Unequal access to health services, poorly funded healthcare systems, and language barriers are just some of the sources of these discrepancies.

    The devastation COVID-19 has inflicted on American Indian communities showcases an especially bleak picture of these problems. Virginia Hedrick, executive director of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health, said that across every age group American Indians are dying at much higher rates than white Americans; yet they have been slow to receive the vaccine.

    “I think what we saw in 2020, and what we'll likely continue to see in 2021, is a reflection of the outcomes of historical trauma,” she explained, pointing to the disproportionate high rates of other health problems among American Indians. Like other groups, American Indian communities long suffered from underfunded healthcare systems that COVID-19 has pushed to the limit.

    Hedrick said that aspects of the current vaccine campaign contribute to the neglect of some communities, even when it comes to vaccinating essential workers like those in the healthcare field.

    “The vast majority [healthcare workers] are white  So, when you prioritize health care workers, we are inherently prioritizing a population of people,” said Hedrick.

    While vaccines becoming available are important to save lives and livelihoods, on their own they do not solve the whole problem. Adam Carbullido, director of policy & advocacy at the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, said the pandemic amplified problems that contributed to racial disparities which predated the pandemic.

    One of the disparities Carbullido mentioned is a basic misunderstanding about the Pacific Islander community, which shows up in conversations about the difficulties facing Asian Americans. While Pacific Islanders do share some problems faced by other Asian Americans, with xenophobia amid the pandemic being a serious one, it's a mistake to consider all Asian American communities as the same.

    “We really need to do a better job of noting the distinct experiences of each of our communities,” explained Carbullido.

    “Many of the national conversations that I've been a part of, the experiences of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islander communities are often left out at the national dialogue.”

    To this end,Carbullido encourages authorities to provide more support to local groups, who better understand their communities’ needs and he echoed Dr. Turner-Lloveras’ point on requiring better data gathering. Without this support and up-t-date data, the responses will always remain incomplete and only slow minority communities’ recovery from COVID-19, before and after they receive vaccines.     


    Nicholas Morgan contributes articles and reports of special interest to East Palo Alto Today.