The U.S. is supposed to be back in business and opening up for a return to life pre-COVID-19. But instead, public health officials are becoming increasingly concerned by a troubling series of recent developments, including an alarming drop in vaccinations among people of color and a sharp spike of the more infectious and deadly “delta” variant of the coronavirus.
April Ryan, White House Correspondent for The Grio, reported that the “COVID-19 vaccination data collection on Black and brown communities is still showing stark contrasts between racial groups” with Black Americans significantly “behind the curve when it comes to getting vaccinated.”
Ryan spoke with the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who described the disparity between Black and White Americans who have received the vaccine as a tale of “two Americas.”
Dr. Fauci said he blamed the lower number of vaccinated Black individuals on a number of factors, including mistrust of government and federal programs and information, financial disparities, economic issues, lack of regular access to a primary care physician, and more. While numerous different programs have been implemented to counteract these issues, Dr. Fauci also said these factors were deep and complicated and could, unfortunately, be tough to overcome.
If the news of Black people en masse refusing to get vaccinated wasn’t bad enough, The Washington Post is also now warning that the latest mutation of the COVID-19 virus — the so-called “delta” variant — is set to become the dominant form of the virus spreading across the U.S. in the coming weeks.
The Post reported that “the unusually contagious delta coronavirus variant, first found in India, could become the dominant strain in the United States [later] this summer,” according to new data from Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is more transmissible than the alpha variant, or the U.K. variant that we have here,” Walensky told ABC’s Good Morning America. “We saw that quickly become the dominant strain in a period of one or two months, and I anticipate that is going to be what happens with the delta strain here.”
Emphasizing that the CDC-approved vaccines protect against the delta variant, Walensky said it was more important than ever for unvaccinated people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who chairs the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, reiterated that warning, saying that if vaccination rates for Black Americans don’t improve soon, it could exacerbate the already stark race- and gender-based coronavirus disparities within the country.
“I’m worried about delta, and I’m worried about delta especially for people who aren’t vaccinated, and for [minority] communities where the uptake of vaccination has been low,” she told Shefali Luthra, a health reporter with nonprofit newsroom The 19th.
Although COVID-19 cases, on the whole, have been trending downward, the delta variant is spreading rapidly, making it much more likely to create coronavirus outbreaks in communities where a significant number of people remain unvaccinated, such as predominantly Black neighborhoods. According to Luthra, this puts these hard-to-reach populations at much greater risk for serious illness or even death.
“There’s more work to do,” Nunez-Smith admitted. “The dynamics of COVID-19 are local. And so, it really comes down to the dynamics of one’s community. How many people in one’s community have been vaccinated? The risk is there for these localized surges.”
Just how bad are the numbers? Based on the most recent available data from the CDC, the Kaiser Family Foundation has reported that race and ethnicity data were available for 57% of people around the country who had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“Among this group, nearly two-thirds were White (60%), 9% were Black, 15% were Hispanic, 6% were Asian, 1% were American Indian or Alaska Native, and <1% were Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, while 8% reported multiple or ‘other race,’” the KFF reported.