As the vaccine rollout begins in the US, the COVID-19 pandemic’s racial disparities seem to persist as communities of colour receive a smaller share of available vaccines. On 3 March 2021, 38 states publicly shared race and ethnicity data for vaccinated people. The jurisdictions define race and ethnicity categories in different ways, and with different levels of completeness.
In some states, as much as a third of vaccinations are missing race and ethnicity data. Public health experts have said that despite these ‘data limitations’, the patterns that are emerging across states are clear: “People of colour are getting vaccinated at rates below their representation of the general population,” explained Doctor Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of President Biden’s coronavirus equity task force, at a recent forum on the vaccine.
Although the reported race and ethnicity of vaccinated people is influenced by which groups are eligible to get a vaccine, the gaps aren’t solely because of the demographics of the first people in line. “We are not even rolling out to everyone in the country yet, and we are already seeing these disparities by race and ethnicity,” said Doctor Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a physician and epidemiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, to The New York Times.
The state figures vary widely. In Texas, where people who identify as Hispanic make up 42 per cent of the population, only 20 per cent of the vaccinations had gone to that group. In Mississippi, where black people make up 38 per cent of the population, they received 22 per cent of the vaccinations.
According to a few public health experts, obstacles to vaccine access deserve much of the blame for vaccination disparities. Black and Hispanic Americans are less likely than their white counterparts to have internet access reliable enough to make online appointments, to have work schedules flexible enough to take any available opening, and to have access to dependable transportation to vaccine sites, among other factors. A lack of access to information about the vaccine through trusted providers can also lead to uncertainty and an unwillingness to get a shot.
Some states are now trying to address these challenges by bringing vaccines to hard-hit communities and partnering with local groups to share information in multiple languages and in culturally appropriate ways. But sadly, racial and ethnic health disparities are longstanding and deeply rooted in the US.
“When you think about these differences, you realise we have a lot of work to do as a nation,” said Doctor Sonja S. Hutchins, who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for three decades. “This is not likely to be our last pandemic,” she added when speaking to The New York Times.
What does it take then to get credible information about the COVID-19 vaccine, and vaccines in general, to more people? As more social media giants work towards banning all types of anti-vaxxers content from their platforms, black and Hispanic communities continue to grapple with vaccine misinformation.
According to another article by The New York Times, “the misinformation varies, like claims that vaccines can alter DNA—which is not true—and that the vaccines don’t work, or that people of color are being used as guinea pigs.” A good part of this false information comes from friends, family and celebrities, bubbling up in communities that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and facing other hurdles to getting vaccinated.
In an ethnically diverse neighbourhood in Northern California, a community group started going door to door to understand the reasons behind the low vaccination rates for black and Hispanic Americans compared with non-Hispanic white people. What seems to be effective at increasing the coronavirus vaccination rates among citizens is to hold walk-in vaccination clinics where people can show up, ask questions they have and then potentially get a shot.
In just the last few weeks, there have been huge strides towards reaching people and getting those walk-in clinics open or taking vaccines to people, and addressing people’s concerns. Hopefully, this will help close the blatant vaccination gap in the US.
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Dating app bios have had a love-hate relationship with the pandemic. From humble toilet paper brags to puns about face masks and Purell gels, it seems as if dating profile bios have arrived at their latest pit-stop: COVID vaccination.
Keywords like “covid vaccinated” and “fully vaccinated” have started dominating bios as Tinder reported a 258 per cent rise in users mentioning the word “vaccine” between September and December 2020. OKCupid, a dating app that matches members based on multiple-choice questions, notes a 137 per cent increase in mentions of the keyword between November 2020 and January 2021.
Conversations about proper sanitation and precautions were already a turn-on for dating app users since the beginning of the pandemic. “Two out of three people are already having the ‘COVID conversation’ before they meet,” a spokesperson for Bumble explained in an interview with Tyla. “Before meeting up, 63 per cent of people had a conversation with their dates about the venue, mask-wearing and physical contact, with 80 per cent of people saying that this helped get to know their date better and feel safer.”
The latest trend of vaccination bios seems to further add on to a user’s ‘oomph’ factor. OKCupid includes a set of questions about vaccinations that users can choose to answer in order to match with potential suitors. The question “will you get the COVID-19 vaccine?” has gotten 45,000 correspondents with over 70 per cent positive responses. According to Tyla, these users are getting 2.3 times more ‘likes’ and 1.8 times more matches than those who said no.
“Not only is the vaccine becoming the biggest talking point on dating apps, it’s actually becoming a huge deal-breaker,” Michael Kaye, a spokesperson for OKCupid tells Insider. Further data collected by the app suggests that 40 per cent of millennials and gen Z users would cancel a date with someone who refuses to take the vaccine with the figure 18 per cent higher for women when compared to men.
Though most countries currently prioritise older citizens who are at the highest risk against the virus, majority of these vaccinated-hence-desirable users include key workers like health professionals and those with certain medical conditions who have been given priority in their country. Young vaccine trial participants and US citizens who have been queuing up outside pharmacies for leftover doses are among the dating app users who have been able to get a shot before others.
The trend, despite its seemingly-harmless digital nature, is not free from criticism. One of the downsides pointed out is the lack of verification of the information provided. Users could easily lie about their immunisation status online to engage with their matches who deem their interaction ‘safe’. Dating apps do not verify if someone has been immunised or not from their side either. Insider reports that these apps would not be HIPAA-compliant if they shared health information in the US.
However, the trend might signal the initiation of a greater good: winning the war against COVID-19 itself—and anti-vaxxers too. The desirability quotient related with vaccination statuses on these apps might push more users to get vaccinated, creating new dating norms like ‘vaccinate and chill’ in the process. Eagerness to get back onto the dating market additionally helps push the trend in a positive light. Overall, its ultimate benefits seem to outweigh the immediate negatives. So brace yourselves to spot profile bios in the lines of ‘Let’s rub our anti-bodies together’ soon on your favourite dating apps.