WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Initial deliveries of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine should start on Tuesday, senior Biden administration officials said on Sunday, saying they hoped to boost lagging vaccination rates among minorities.
The officials acknowledged that vaccination rates among Black and brown Americans were “not where we ultimately want them to be”, but said measures had been put in place to boost those numbers, and sought to assure minorities that the vaccines were safe. Federal officials were also closely monitoring distribution to ensure it was equitable, they said.
“Even though we know the data are not complete, we do see these early patterns that suggest Black and brown Americans largely are getting vaccinated at rates lower than the representation in the general population,” said one of the officials.
The officials gave no data on the disparities, but KFF, a health policy and research organization, has found that people of color are getting smaller shares of vaccinations as compared to their share of the population. In Alabama, for instance, Black people account for 27% of the population and 31% of the deaths from COVID-19, but only 17% of the vaccinations.
The U.S. officials said they respected the concerns raised by some Black Americans given a history of past disparities and “egregiously unethical conduct”, including the Tuskegee study in Macon County, Alabama, in which federal health officials denied black men treatment to study syphilis from 1932 to 1972.
But they underscored the importance of everyone who was eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible, to get control of the pandemic, and said great efforts had been made to ensure that Black and brown people were adequately represented at every stage of the vaccine process.
“It is critical for people to understand the safeguards that are in place around this clinical research, but also the diversity and representation at the level of the scientist, at the level of the policymakers and those who are reviewing these data, as well as the clinical trial participants,” said one of the officials.
Up to 400 community vaccination centers were being put into areas with large minority population, and officials would use mobile units to reach more people, they said, adding that flexible hours of operation also would be critical.
“We have directed states to manage distribution of all (three) vaccines in a fair and equitable way, and we will continue to monitor that closely,” a second official said.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine involves only one shot, not two, and may be easier to distribute since it does not require a freezer, but federal officials said all three vaccines should be made available evenly across communities and the country.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Julia Harte; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft
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