Black and Latino Oaklanders have been hit harder than most other Bay Area communities by the COVID-19 pandemic, but according to county health officials they’re receiving fewer vaccine doses than they should be.
Over 244,000 Alameda County residents have received at least a first dose of vaccine, and 54,000 new doses are supplied to the county each week. Vaccine shots are currently being given to healthcare workers, people age 65 and older, and essential workers in fields like childcare, education, emergency services, or food and agriculture.
According to data collected by the Alameda County Department of Public Health, white people have received a larger share of first doses than what would be expected if doses were distributed equitably based on the overall makeup of the county’s population. White people account for 34% of the county’s adult population but have gotten 40% of the first doses.
Asians, Latinos, and Black people all have received a smaller share of doses compared to their populations. Latinos account for 20% of the county population but only 11% of vaccine recipients, while Black people have received about 7% of vaccine doses but make up 10% of the population, according to the county health department. About 32% of Alameda County’s adult population is Asian, but 27% of first doses have gone to Asian people.
In Oakland and other parts of Alameda County, Black and Latino communities have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infection, and Black people are dying at higher rates than other racial groups due to the disease.
The county set up a vaccination site at Fremont High School three weeks ago to focus on helping several hard-hit East Oakland neighborhoods, including Fruitvale where the school is located. The 94601 zip code, which includes that neighborhood, has the fourth highest COVID-19 case rate of any zip code in the county. Two of the other top four zip codes are also in East Oakland.
The Fremont High School vaccination site is intended to serve residents of these East Oakland zip codes, who are mostly Latino, Black, and Asian. But these communities haven’t received doses equal to their share of the overall population in these zip codes, according to Sandi Galvez, the county’s director of health equity, policy and planning.
“Thirty percent of doses went to Latino residents although they make up 38% of the population of those zip codes,” said Galvez during a meeting of the county’s COVID-19 Vaccine Community Advisory Group on Tuesday.
Black people make up 23% of the population in East Oakland’s hardest-hit zip codes, but only 13% of vaccine doses given at Fremont High School have gone to them. White people, who account for only 10% of these East Oakland zip codes have received 25% of the doses given at the school site. Asians have gotten 28% of doses, close to the 26% of the area’s population they represent.
Galvez said during the meeting that the county is doing a relatively good job of vaccinating Latino and African American residents but that “we still could stand to increase our outreach to both of these groups, which together account for 61% of the target population in these zip codes.”
Greg Hodge of Khepera Consulting and the Brotherhood of Elders Network co-chairs the county’s vaccine community advisory group. In an interview, he said the inequities in the vaccine rollout reflect existing disparities in healthcare that preceded the pandemic, and which need to be addressed now and eliminated in the future.
“This is a decades-old problem we’re now seeing with more clarity,” he said.
Hodge praised the county’s public health department and the dozens of community groups, churches, clinics, and other organizations that have come together to try to lessen inequities in the vaccine rollout. Without them, he said, the situation would be much worse.
“In that context though, we’re still behind,” he said. “We’re behind on serving older African Americans and Latinx folks.”
More outreach and education can help reduce the disparities in vaccine access, said Hodge, but the success of that work will hinge on whether the federal government can ramp up vaccine production.
“Our job as community leaders and activists is to make sure people get as much information as possible and that it’s accurate, and to trust people will do the right thing.”
But not everyone has been doing the right thing, adding to the challenges. Vaccine access codes meant to be used by East Oakland residents to schedule appointments, have recently been shared among more affluent people who live in zip codes where the virus hasn’t spread as badly.
In other cases, people have tried to jump ahead in line by falsely claiming eligibility for the vaccine, an issue recognized during yesterday’s vaccine advisory group meeting.
“If you’re falsifying information to get an appointment, at the end of the day, it’s just not very cool,” said Aneeka Chaudhry, director of strategic initiatives and public affairs for the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. “And you’re taking the vaccine away from somebody else who needs it.”