More than two months after launch, Philly’s racial vaccine gap persists

By: - February 24, 2021 9:58 am

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley speaks during a briefing on Tuesday 2/23/21 (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — The COVID-19 vaccine racial gap persists in Philadelphia more than two months after the first dose was administered as whites continue to receive the bulk of the inoculations.

African-American residents have received 20% of the 174,092 first-vaccine doses administered in the city as of Monday, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

The share of vaccines going to Black residents has ticked up from 15% over the last two weeks and from 12% at the start of January when the city first began reporting the racial data.

Black residents remain under-represented among those who have received the first-vaccine dose compared to their share of the city’s population (44 percent).

Whereas white residents have received 54 percent of the vaccinations, according the city’s Department of Public Health.

The same racial gap persists for Hispanics, who account for 4% of first dose vaccines while making up 15% of the population, and Asians, who received 6.5% of the vaccines and make up nearly 8% of the population.

Farley sidestepped a question about grading the city’s rollout of the vaccine program in terms of ensuring racial equity — “I’m not a grade guy” — but said the administration had “more work to do” on vaccinating African-Americans and other racial groups.

“We want to vaccinate people as quickly as possible,” Farley said. “We want to vaccinate the people so we can save the most lives and also do it with racial equity. We’ve got more work to do on all of those. The numbers speak for themselves.”

Farley’s comments during the Kenney administration’s weekly COVID-19 news conference came hours after the city opened its first standing mass vaccination clinic in North Philadelphia, with two more planned to open later this week.

The health commissioner said those clinics will serve people more likely to be African American.

Mayor Jim Kenney said he believed the city’s three new mass vaccination clinics would help close the vaccine racial gap.

“The most important thing is that wherever we’re doing it, it’s in neighborhoods and accessible by public transportation or by foot,” Kenney said.

The Kenney administration will soon release data detailing the racial demographics of individuals who received doses from each vaccine provider for the first time. The data may be released by the week’s end.

Martin Luther King Jr. Older Adult Center in North Philadelphia is the site of the city’s first standing mass vaccination clinic.

A vaccination clinic will open at the Community Academy of Philadelphia in Kensington on Thursday and another will open at the University of the Sciences in West Philadelphia on Saturday.

The new sites are limited to individuals over 75 years or with certain medical conditions. Vaccinations at these clinics are appointment-only for those who have signed up through the city’s online vaccine interest form.

To date, 232,000 people have signed up on the city’s vaccine interest form.

Those new standing vaccination clinics will complement the other vaccine distribution sites in the city, which include hospitals; eight independent pharmacies, including Rite Aid and Walgreens; and mobile sites organized by independent groups, such as the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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