From the start of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, experts warned that it would take careful attention to make sure it was distributed equitably. Making sure non-white and poorer communities had access to life-saving vaccines would be an issue of justice and a public health necessity. Throughout 2020, these groups had higher rates of death and disease from the virus than white and wealthy people, so protecting them would be key to the overall goal of using vaccines to save the most lives.
Despite those warnings, the COVID-19 vaccination campaign got off to a rough and unequal start. By the middle of January, when 17 states were reporting race and ethnicity data, analyses showed that Black and Hispanic people were vaccinated at lower rates than their share of the population. The pattern continued through February. Across the country, wealthy and white people were showing up to vaccine clinics in poorer neighborhoods, crowding out local residents who aren’t as able to navigate the shot sign-up process.
Many cities, including New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC, publish maps showing COVID-19 vaccination rates by ZIP code or ward. Looking at them next to maps of areas with the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths are striking: they’re almost the inverse. Officials are trying to course-correct by prioritizing residents of underserved neighborhoods for some vaccination sites, organizing events at community centers like churches, or going door to door.
But the visuals are a clear sign of how much work still needs to be done.
New York City
Overall, around 11 percent of people in New York City have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But in some areas of the city with the highest rates of COVID-19 deaths through the pandemic, only around 3 to 5 percent of people have started vaccination.
Older people eligible for vaccination in Washington, DC’s wealthier wards are more likely to have been vaccinated than people in the poorer, predominantly Black wards.
Only 4 percent of residents in one majority Hispanic Chicago ZIP code have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, even though that area had one of the highest death rates in the city.