Race Versus Time: Targeting Vaccine To The Most Vulnerable Is No Speedy Task

By Yuki Noguchi

Early in the pandemic, San Diego County recognized its COVID-19 relief efforts needed to reach its large Latino population, and set up a task force in June to lay out plans — well ahead of when vaccines became available.

Last month, it opened its first vaccination sites where the target population lives and works: Close to the Mexican border. But the people who showed up for appointments were white, more affluent, and didn’t live there.

“Even by physically locating the centers down south, a lot of those appointment slots are taken up by people that are from the north of the county and more technologically savvy,” says Dr. Christian Ramers, a member of the county’s task force, and an executive at Family Health Centers of San Diego, which runs a network of 23 primary care clinics serving mostly minority and poor populations.

Ramers says Latino people make up a third of San Diego’s population, but account for about half of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. And to date, only 15% received at least one dose of vaccine. So San Diego, like the rest of the country, is living a COVID-19 paradox: Those needing vaccine most aren’t getting as much of the limited supply as the numbers suggest they should be getting.

“The challenges in ensuring equity are just very, very large,” Ramers says. “And even despite having our eyes on the ball, the numbers don’t really satisfy anybody.”

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