White people receiving most of Washington’s vaccine doses, Hispanics disproportionately left behind

SPOKANE, Wash. — As the number of vaccinations increase in Washington, so does the racial divide in public health. Limited vaccine doses in Washington have mostly gone to white people and richer communities.

For months, the Washington Department of Health and Governor Jay Inslee said vaccinating underrepresented communities would be one of their top priorities. But, as the state nears one million vaccinations, it’s clear that Hispanics and other minorities are not getting enough of these shots.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated all of these health inequalities across the world,” Associate Professor at WSU Celestina Barbosa-Leiker said.

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Those health inequalities are front and center in Washington’s vaccine rollout.

The state has given at least one dose to about 750,000 people and roughly 195,000 people are fully vaccinated.

65 percent of those 195,00 people are white.

There’s a clear disparity among different races, and Hispanics specifically, as they make up 13-percent of the state’s population but just about 6-percent of Hispanics have been fully vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, this is not only a Washington state phenomenon, this is a phenomenon that’s being repeated across the country,” Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said.

Dr. Shah says mass vaccination sites like the Spokane Arena are one way of solving this problem, but it’s a tough system to navigate if you don’t speak English or have access to a computer.

The Spokane Arena scheduled 4,000 appointments this week, and 3,000 of them went to people signing up online. The other issue is that many of these under represented communities just don’t trust the vaccine or public health at all.

“There’s a long history of distrust, and it’s very justified,” Barbosa-Leiker said.

Celestina Barbosa-Leiker and her staff at WSU research racial disparity in public health.

They’ve partnered with the NAACP to get the message out to those communities with signs like these, trying every avenue to build that trust.

 

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“Even if we have the vaccine, if people don’t feel comfortable taking the vaccine, we won’t be able to immunize them,” Dr. Frank Velazquez of Spokane Regional Health said. “So, we have built that bridge to make sure that communication is happening.”

Spokane Regional Health plans to rely on faith based organizations, mobile health clinics and other facilities to bring the vaccine to rural communities.

But, internet reliability is an issue in those communities as well.

“Like telehealth, scheduling these [appointments]; it’s critical because you’re able to get easier access to potential healthcare,” Barbosa-Leiker said.

Vaccine clinics are being set up around the region to help out with this as the county and state try to reach communities where they live instead of expecting people to come to them.

RELATED: Washington state vaccination data shows racial, ethnic inequities