KPHD report: Inequity an issue when getting COVID vaccines

Healthcare providers in Kitsap County have been administering COVID-19 vaccines since late December. About 36,000 residents have received their first dose. However, vaccines have not been equally available to all Kitsap residents who have qualified so far.

A nationwide shortage of vaccines has prevented many eligible residents from booking appointments. Challenges with online registration systems and the limited number of vaccination sites have created additional barriers to accessing vaccines.

To better understand who in our county is getting vaccinated, Kitsap Public Health District epidemiologists combed through COVID-19 data from the state’s immunization database to produce a demographic snapshot of vaccine rollout through early February.

The report, available on the health district’s COVID-19 vaccine page, reveals how local vaccination rates vary by race, ethnicity, language and geographic area. Similar disparities are being reported across the state and country.

“Narrowing gaps in vaccine distribution will take a community-wide effort,” a health district news release states. “Kitsap Public Health is collaborating with service organizations and healthcare providers to support equitable access to vaccine for all eligible county residents and reach populations hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A section of the report breaks down COVID cases, hospitalizations, deaths by gender, geographic area, age, race and ethnicity, and language.

“Understanding which groups have been most affected by COVID-19 to date helps us prioritize our vaccination efforts as we work to protect the health of residents and control the spread of the virus,” the release says.

A snapshot in Kitsap County

  • More than 30% of Kitsap residents older than 65 received their first dose. The current phase of vaccination – Phase 1B Tier 1 – focuses on people 65 or older and people 50 or older in multigenerational households.
  • About 12% of all Kitsap residents received their first dose.
  • Among Kitsap residents 65 or older, vaccination rates are highest for those identifying as American Indian or Alaska Native. Tribes are receiving federal or state vaccine allocations that are separate from the supplies allocated by states to local healthcare providers.
  • Vaccination rates among all other racial categories are within 10 percentage points of each other. The vaccination rate for Kitsap residents 65 or older is somewhat higher among those who identify as White than those identifying as Asian, Black or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
  • About 28% of residents 65 or older who speak English have been vaccinated, compared with 6% of Spanish speakers. However, language information was not available for about 32% of those vaccinated.
  • Bremerton has the highest rate of COVID cases. Bainbridge Island has experienced the fewest.
  • By race and ethnicity, people identifying as Hispanic or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander have experienced the highest rates of COVID.

  • People identifying as Asian or White have experienced the lowest rates.
  • Spanish speakers have experienced a much higher rate of COVID (4,338 cases per 100,000) than English speakers (1,426 per 100,000).

Equity in vaccine rollout

The news release says there are many challenges to providing equitable access to the COVID vaccine, beginning with the overwhelming demand and limited supplies. Systems for finding and booking vaccine appointments have overwhelmingly favored people with internet access and technological know-how, or those with others to advocate on their behalf, per the health district.

“Many of the racial disparities we see in both the impact of the COVID-19 and access to vaccination are linked to systemic inequality that extends far beyond this pandemic response,” the release states. “Both locally and nationally, people of color are more likely to experience poor health and have greater barriers to accessing healthcare than people who are white. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed and widened these gaps.”

Communities of color, including Black and Latinx, have been hit hardest by COVID nationwide. People of color are more likely to be hesitant to pursue vaccination due to mistrust in government and healthcare systems.

“No one agency or organization can solve these complex issues, but we are committed to promoting equity in our own vaccination programs and bringing our community together around broader solutions,” the news release says.

Ongoing work by the health district includes:

  • Convening a community collaborative focused on improving equity in vaccine rollout. For information, email covidvaccine@kitsappublichealth.org
  • Working with community groups and healthcare providers to promote COVID vaccination and support vaccine access for underserved populations. This includes planning additional vaccine clinics to serve communities hardest hit by COVID.
  • Reserving a portion of appointments at the KPHD COVID vaccine clinic for people who are eligible for vaccine but do not have internet or have other barriers to accessing vaccine.
  • Providing phone support for people who do not have internet or computer access, or have other barriers to getting vaccine appointments. Call 360-728-2219. Para Español: 360-728-2218.

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