The U.S. has closed the racial gap on COVID-19 vaccination, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), and the Biden administration is taking credit for the win.
According to the latest survey data from KFF’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor Dashboard, 73% of Hispanic adults reported being at least partially vaccinated, along with 70% of Black adults and 71% of white adults.
Back in May — prior to President Biden’s “month of action” — the same survey showed rates of 57%, 56%, and 65%, respectively, noted Marcella Nunez-Smith, MD, MHS, during a White House COVID-19 Response Team press briefing on Tuesday.
Disparities in vaccine uptake stemmed from barriers to access as well as concerns over safety and efficacy, which were often rooted in misinformation, explained Nunez-Smith, chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
And the closing of that gap, “that’s the result of intentional work to address those barriers, to address those concerns,” she said.
Response Team coordinator Jeffrey Zients credited the Biden administration’s “relentless focus on advancing equity” and its efforts to reach the hardest-hit and most vulnerable communities.
Other research also supports the findings from KFF dashboard’s, Nunez-Smith noted.
The Pew Research Center survey, which includes 10,000 respondents, found that 76% of Hispanic adults had received at least one COVID-19 shot, along with 72% of white adults and 70% of Black adults. And CDC’s National Immunization Survey, which polled 19,000 respondents by phone, found rates of 78%, 76%, and 73%, respectively.
Although the percentages vary, they are a “confirmation” of the progress that’s been made, Nunez-Smith said.
“They tell the story of an all-of-society effort to get us to where we are today,” she said, recalling employers who gave their staff paid time off, neighbors who drove friends to get shots, and churches that volunteered their buildings as “trusted spaces for vaccinations.”
However, KFF’s data also put a spotlight on the continued political divide in vaccination rates. While 90% of Democrats have gotten at least one shot, only 58% of Republicans and 68% of Independents have done so.
Rural residents also lag behind urban residents, with vaccination rates of 63% and 79%, respectively, and only 16% of white evangelicals have been vaccinated (with 29% saying they will definitely not get the vaccine).
KFF’s dashboard also includes responses to questions regarding booster shots, which again revealed a partisan split. Among respondents who are fully vaccinated, Democrats were nearly twice as likely as Republicans to say they will “definitely” get a booster if one is recommended by the CDC or FDA (68% vs 36%). Approximately 23% of fully vaccinated Republicans said they would “probably or definitely not” get a booster, even if recommended.
Asked whether President Biden might be the wrong person to reach certain populations, given the partisan divides, and whether certain groups might be incapable of being persuaded, Nunez-Smith said, “we think everybody is worth that investment, to try to connect with them, and to make sure that they have the information,” though she agreed that “the messenger matters, and the message matters.”
That is the reason her task force has engaged people from all different communities in its stakeholder round tables, she said.
“It might take a little bit longer, but we are absolutely laser-focused on reaching everyone, making sure people know that vaccines do work [and are] safe and effective … This is not a political or partisan issue in the least. It’s a public health crisis, and we have the tools that we know work to get us all safely through and to the other side.”
Separate from the discussion of the KFF data, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, shared her concern for the low rates of unvaccinated pregnant women.
“We now have data that demonstrates that vaccines, in whatever time in pregnancy or lactating that they’re given, are actually safe and effective and have no adverse events to mom, or to baby,” she said, noting that studies have also shown that antibodies from the vaccine in mothers may potentially protect the baby.
Currently, however, only 30% of pregnant women are vaccinated, including 15% of Black women. This places them at “severe risk” of disease from COVID-19, Walensky said, recalling the deaths of 21 pregnant women in August.
“We absolutely have the data that demonstrates the overwhelming benefit of vaccine, and really very little safety concerns at all,” Walensky said.