Markey, Pressley cite 'vaccine redlining'

After about a full year of the coronavirus crisis, data have gradually revealed what many predicted would happen: People of color, as well as people who are medically or financially vulnerable, are experiencing more loss and fewer gains than white people enduring the pandemic.

Several Massachusetts political powerhouses and community leaders held a Facebook Live panel last Saturday to discuss how marginalized people have fared almost a year into the deadly pandemic — specifically their access to and education about the vaccine, and what they’re championing at the State House, White House, and Congress to address the issues.

Communities of color “were the first to get the virus, the first to stay on the job, the first to die but last to get the relief and the care they need during this crisis,” said US Sen. Ed Markey.

During the discussion, several commenters wrote that vaccine distribution should be equal, therefore race shouldn’t factor into that. But early distribution data show that Black and Latinx people are being vaccinated at a lower rate than white people.

Access to the vaccine is one of the biggest hurdles. Another major hurdle is an earned distrust of medicine that stems from well-documented experimentation on marginalized people and people of color.

When Massachusetts’ two vaccine websites debuted and shortly crashed for eligible people 65 and older, the incident left people waiting for hours or not getting an appointment at all. Many in that age group aren’t savvy with computers and Rev. Miniard Culpepper. who leads the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Dorchester, said even if they are tech-oriented, many couldn’t afford to wait for several hours or refresh the page hundreds of times.

“I don’t know too many folks in my church that can take six hours out of a day to try to get an appointment,” he said. He thinks the state could use more churches as vaccination sites.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley said she, Sen. Markey and US Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been pushing Gov. Baker to better collect anonymized data on racial demographics of people who have been vaccinated.

“He indicated about 20 percent of the data that they have is unknown,” Pressley said. “[Accurately capturing data] would support efforts to realize equity to guard against what I’m characterizing as vaccine redlining . . . the [Baker] administration is really failing those most impacted.”

Pressley said she has asked the governor to ramp up vaccination efforts for people of color. But even if anonymized race data becomes more accurate or if doses become more available, Pressley believes the deepest challenge is overcoming people of color’s well-warranted skepticism of medicine because of its history of experimenting on marginalized people.

“It is incumbent on the medical community to regain the trust,” she said. “It’s the medical community that violated the trust of Black Americans and other marginalized communities because of the practice of medical apartheid.”

Pressley said people who are unhoused, who had first access to the vaccine, told her they were suspicious because they’ve never been first for anything. Pressley said better data collection and supporting partnerships with medical centers and places of faith would be good first steps in closing disparity gaps. Pressley, Markey, and Warren say they›re also urging the Biden administration and their congressional colleagues to also pay attention.

This article was published by WBUR 90.9FM on Feb. 20. The Reporter and WBUR share content through a media partnership.