Black Southerners and vaccination rates: Why transportation access is key

The racial inequities of the COVID-19 pandemic have been well documented over the last year. A disproportionate number of African Americans have died from the disease, while the subsequent economic and social impact hit Black people much harder than their white counterparts.

And in solving the crisis, people of color are also being left behind.

Since the first deliveries of the vaccine began in mid-December, Black people are being vaccinated at levels below their population share in every Southern state, according to a March 31 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit focusing on national health issues. 

Of note, for example: 

  • In Georgia, Black people make up 32% of the population but have received 23% of the vaccinations. 
  • In Mississippi, African Americans are 38% of the population and 32% of vaccinations. 
  • Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have each vaccinated 9% of the African Americans in those states, where Black residents make up 16%, 32%, 26% of citizens, respectively.

In contrast, white people are being vaccinated at levels greater than their population share, except for Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee, according to the Kaiser data.

In addition, Black people have received a lower share of vaccinations compared to their percentage share of deaths from COVID-19. And in all but two Southern states Black residents died at higher rates compared to their percentage of the population. Arkansas and Texas were the only exceptions.

Many of the Covid-19 deaths among Black people have been attributed to racial health disparities. For example, Black people are more likely to suffer from ailments that make COVID-19 far more deadly, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. These issues are exacerbated by low-incomes and lack of access to medical care.

While experts point to a generational mistrust of the medical establishment as among the main factors behind the low uptake of the vaccination. Public health researchers also point to transportation as another key factor preventing African Americans from receiving vaccinations at higher rates.

Data show:

  • Nationwide, 19% of Black homes lack access to a car, according to the 2017 National Equity Atlas, a report card produced by PolicyLink, a nationwide research group focusing on economic and social equity. 
  • In addition, an analysis by Smart Growth America noted that roughly 9% of all households in urban counties, and 6% of all households in rural counties, do not have access to a car. Those figures amount to about one-million rural carless households.
  • In all Southern states, Black people are less likely to have access to a car than any other race, according to the report card. Similar issues have presented significant problems for voters in recent years, Reckon reported last year.  

Why does any of this matter?

Black people living in cities have reasonable access to public transportation and may be within walking distance of a facility that is offering the COVID-19 vaccine. But what about people living rurally?

A February 2021 study by the University of Pittsburgh school of pharmacy found 94 counties where Black people had a significantly higher risk than white people of having to travel more than 10 miles to find a vaccination facility. The highest concentrations of those counties are all in the South: Virginia (16), Georgia (10), South Carolina (7), Texas (7) Mississippi (6), Alabama (6) and North Carolina (6).

The study identified another 236 counties where Black people were being forced to travel further than white people, but the distance was not significant.

There have been grassroots efforts to help Black people living in the rural South get the vaccine, particularly in Alabama and Mississippi. But those efforts are being hampered by officials in Alabama and Mississippi who have struggled to distribute the vaccine as efficiently as in other states. Both states are ranked last in administering doses.

And a recent poll suggested that people living in Southern states are less likely to get the vaccine than those in the rest of the country.

The Reckon Report.
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