OPINION: Time To Level The Playing Field For Vaccines

Back in December, just as the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine roll-out was beginning to get underway, I wrote that this was an opportunity to take another step along our journey to be a “more perfect union.”

Just as our nation had with the Polio vaccine more than half a century earlier, we had the chance to step up and be truly great. Still, I worried that communities of color would once again “fall into the broken fault lines of our healthcare system.”

Looking back now, it’s frustrating that COVID has killed more than 445,000 Americans to date while infecting more than 26 million men, women and children in this country including my mother, my sister and my niece. It’s frustrating because, despite multiple proven vaccines against this deadly disease, those numbers continue to grow with its economic impact further devastating our families.

Furthermore, it’s frustrating because, while I and countless others sounded the alarm so long ago, this virus continues to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities.

Not only are we less likely to be tested, less likely to be treated, less likely to have access to care and more likely to be infected and killed by this virus, we continue to be overlooked when it comes to vaccine distribution.

African-Americans account for more than 38% of all COVID cases and more than 41% of COVID deaths in Mississippi. But somehow only account for roughly 15% of the vaccinations.

Black folks account for nearly a quarter or COVID deaths in Virginia, but less than 10% of the vaccinations.

In Pennsylvania, African-Americans represent nearly 15% of COVID infections, but only about 3% of vaccinations.

Even though the vast majority of states are refusing to report vaccination data by race, the data we do have paints a grim picture. I believe that communities of color are being passed over and, through supply shortages and inadequate outreach, being denied vaccines that could save their lives…and it makes my blood boil over.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not blaming the Biden Administration for this atrocity. It was well underway before they ever took office. But I am hoping…I’m praying…that these alarming numbers will prompt action.

Furthermore, the states hold tremendous responsibility both for allowing this to happen and, hopefully, reversing course to address this injustice.

Let also be clear that you don’t do that with some form or survey to be completed online particularly when so many of those left behind don’t have any real or reliable access to the internet.

You’re talking about communities facing real challenges in transportation, communication and, for many, access to basic public services in the best of times so, if you want to be effective, you have to get involved in a real, grassroots effort.

Of course, this isn’t rocket science. From Social Security rolls and tax returns to local schools and churches, it’s not hard to identify and contact Americans facing a heightened risk from COVID-19.

But you have to want to do it.

More importantly, you have to realize that lives are at stake. The future of our nation is at stake.

You have to realize that failure is not an option. We have to get this right.

The alternative is not just unthinkable…it’s un-American.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

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