During the first weeks of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in December 2020, Kathryn Freeman Anderson searched everywhere for places to get her parents, who are over 65, vaccinated. The extensive research prompted the University of Houston associate professor of sociology to examine Houston’s sitemap, and knowing the city’s demographics, she suspected there might be an association between segregation and stipends. of vaccines.
“I was thinking ‘we have a problem here’ and through our research I found that black and Latino neighborhoods were less likely to get vaccinated while deployed because they already lack health care resources,” said Anderson, whose teaching focuses on health. and disease, race-ethnic relations and urban sociology.
The findings, published today in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, reveal a “clear issue of race and existing inequalities in health care” only exacerbated by the pandemic.
Anderson and co-author Darra Ray-Warren, a UH sociology student, examined how racial/ethnic residential segregation is associated with the distribution of vaccine sites and doses in the five largest urban counties in Texas: Bexar (San Antonio), Dallas (Dallas), Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Fort Worth), and Travis (Austin). They collected data from the Texas Department of State Health Services between weeks two and 10 — during Phases 1A and 1B — when supply and eligibility were still limited.
“We found that racial/ethnic clustering scores have a significant relationship with vaccination site density in these five counties,” Anderson explained. “As the clustering of Black and Latino groups increases, the number of vaccination sites per 100,000 people in a ZIP code decreases.”
In other words, the higher the percentage of a Black or Latino ZIP code, the fewer vaccination facilities the ZIP code is expected to have based on the data. When the research team took into account the addition of hospitals and doctors’ offices to certain ZIP codes, a higher number of vaccine distribution sites existed.
“This points to a much stronger race story than that of socioeconomic dynamics, which is an important theme about resource allocation between neighborhoods,” the study says. “Not having a health care infrastructure in place means that in the face of a public health catastrophe, existing inequities in our health care system are compounded. The COVID-19 pandemic is, for many people, one of the most disruptive and challenging public health events of our lifetimes. Vaccination in this context represents a lifeline to spare further human suffering, loss of life and a potential return to normalcy. However, this precious resource was not evenly distributed in urban areas, with limited access to populations already at risk of complications from the virus.
Anderson offers solutions to help alleviate this problem now and in the future in times of crisis.
“We need to be aware and make a more concerted effort to provide health care in underserved neighborhoods,” she said. “One way is to educate more doctors of color because studies have shown they are much more likely to practice in minority neighborhoods.”