Despite a pledge to ensure equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Santa Clara County has not posted data on the race or ethnicity of the people it inoculates.
Advocates say after COVID-19 took a disproportionate toll on communities of color — including those in Santa Clara County — local health officials should be recording the race of the people they vaccinate.
“It’s valuable to get this demographic data because it’s the only way we’re going to know how we’re really addressing this disease,” said Carmen Brammer, the senior project manager for Unity Care’s COVID-19 Black health initiative. “Until we see those layers, we don’t know if change is really affecting the significantly impacted (and) disparately impacted communities.”
Brammer works on communicating reliable information about the pandemic to Black communities across the Bay Area.
Part of her job is to prevent the spread of misinformation and to build trust.
“The big thing is just the fear,” Brammer said. “The fear of not knowing … if you take the first dose, do you get a second dose? What are the side effects of all this?”
Advocates say decades of abuse on Black communities has left a legacy of distrust toward health care providers.
Seeing people who share the same skin color or speak the same language accessing vaccines would restore confidence in local health officials, Brammer said.
“We identify with people who look like us and talk like us,” she said. “So it’s important to see that we are going and getting the vaccine because otherwise, there’s no really great context.”
Like many other regions, COVID-19 has disproportionately killed and sickened people of color in Santa Clara County and those living in underserved communities. As of Jan. 19, Latinos represent 51% of the cumulative COVID-19 cases and 29.6% of the deaths countywide, despite comprising just a quarter of the population.
About 3.5% of people who have died of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County are Black, though Black people comprise just 2.4% of the county’s population.
A San José Spotlight series revealed how the ZIP codes hit hardest by COVID-19 were those in East San Jose, which has a large immigrant community.
In addition to lacking demographics of who is being vaccinated, Santa Clara County has also had a sluggish vaccine rollout. The county used less than half the vaccines it had received by early January and the state was rated 43rd in the shots injected per 100,000 residents.
California has distributed 3,226,755 vaccines and health care providers have administered 1,525,815 doses as of Jan. 19, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.
Health care providers in Santa Clara County have administered 84,740 vaccines as of Jan. 20, but a county spokesperson said tracking demographics data on who is vaccinated is up to the state.
A spokesperson with the state health department said California does not have public data on the race or ethnicity of people being vaccinated for COVID-19.
California’s COVID-19 vaccination plan says it’s optional for the state to report the race of the people receiving it.
It took a month after the county’s first vaccinations for health officials to publish a dashboard showing how many doses are being received and administered.
In at least 16 states, more white people have received COVID-19 vaccines than Black people, according to Kaiser Health News. But there’s no way for the public to know if that’s the case in Santa Clara County.
However, health experts with the Community Health Partnership said recording the race and ethnicity of people receiving the vaccine comes with challenges.
“Collecting data in general is just really hard, especially at these mass community testing and vaccination sites,” said Elena Guzman, the deputy director of population health at the Community Health Partnership. “We do have to respect the individuals who are providing the information on the roster for the registration forms and if they do not want to indicate race or ethnicity, you have to respect that.”
Guzman said some snags could arise while asking people to fill out their information. If forms are handwritten, people’s handwriting may be illegible or others may not be able to read or understand everything forms are asking for.
“And so it’s difficult … you can’t assume a race or ethnicity,” she said, explaining that receiving this data is dependent on people’s willingness to disclose their information.
However, Community Health Partnership Epidemiologist Devayani Kunjir said having more information on vaccinations would help health officials make decisions on where to dispense more resources.
Kunjir said it is too soon to tell if any disparities are present between who’s being vaccinated, but organizing data on ZIP codes, gender, age, comorbidities, race and ethnicity are all important to track.
“In an ideal world, I would say that data should be collected and should be analyzed to sort of strategize around where to target and how we can use our resources better, and how the allocation should be done,” she said.
Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.