Three pillars of a successful coronavirus vaccine program in minorities


2. Equitable allocation and distribution of vaccine for minority populations

Enrollment in clinical trials is just a beginning; a more significant challenge would be the vaccine’s uptake when available to the general public. We still lack a consensus on whether it is lawful for race to be an explicit criterion for priority distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that the vaccine amount allotted to jurisdictions might be based on critical populations recommended for vaccination by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices with input from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The NASEM framework lays out four-phased vaccine distribution approaches, emphasizing social equity by prioritizing vaccines for geographic areas identified through CDC’s social vulnerability index (SVI) or another more specific index. SVI has been a robust composite marker of minority status and language, household composition and transportation, and housing and disability, and predicted COVID-19 case counts in the United States in several studies. The National Academy of Medicine has also recommended racial minorities receive priority vaccination because they have been hard hit and are “worse off” socioeconomically.

3. Immunization uptake by minority populations

Though minority participation is crucial in developing the vaccine, more transparency, open discussions on ethical distribution, and awareness of side effects are required before vaccine approval or emergency-use authorization. Companies behind the four major COVID-19 vaccines in development have released their trials’ protocols, details on vaccine efficacy, and each product’s makeup to increase acceptance of the vaccine.

According to a recent Pew research study, about half of U.S. adults (51%) now say they would definitely or probably get a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 if it were available today. Nearly as many (49%) say they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated at this time. Intent to get a COVID-19 vaccine has fallen from 72% in May 2020, a 21–percentage point drop, and Black adults were much less likely to say they would get a vaccine than other Americans.3 This is concerning as previous studies have shown that race and ethnicity can influence immune responses to vaccination. There is evidence of racial and ethnic differences in immune response following rubella vaccination, Hib–tetanus toxoid conjugate vaccine, antibody responses to the influenza A virus components of IIV3 or 4, and immune responses after measles vaccination.4-9

On the other hand, significant differences in reporting rates of adverse events after human papillomavirus vaccinations were found in different race and ethnicity groups in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.10 Thus, there is ample evidence that race and ethnicity affect responsiveness to a vaccine. Inequity in participation in a clinical trial may lead to an ineffective or one with a suboptimal response or even an unsafe vaccine.

When we look at other immunization programs, according to various surveys in recent years, non-Hispanic Blacks have lower annual vaccination rates for flu, pneumonia, and human papillomavirus vaccinations nationally, compared with non-Hispanic White adults.11 It is a cause of concern as a proportion of the population must be vaccinated to reach “community immunity” or “herd immunity” from vaccination. Depending on varying biological, environmental, and sociobehavioral factors, the threshold for COVID-19 herd immunity may be between 55% and 82% of the population.12 Hence, neither a vaccine trial nor an immunization program can succeed without participation from all communities and age groups.

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