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Communities of color more likely to die from COVID, despite vaccinations

New research published by the University of Minnesota finds that, statewide, white people are vaccinating for COVID-19 at a lower rate than most racial groups. Meanwhile, Black, Hispanic and Asian Minnesotans are significantly more likely to die of the virus, regardless of their vaccination status.

Lead author Professor Elizabeth Wrigley-Field says one of the most important steps a person can take to protect themself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. She says her research sought to understand why COVID infection rates don’t correspond to vaccination rates.

“The idea that this is now a pandemic of the unvaccinated has been used to further the idea that vaccinations are all that we need, [and] frankly, sometimes the idea that if people are still dying, it's their fault - they had this tool, they could have used it, they didn't use it. But we wanted to know, how well, does this capture the totality of risk in the pandemic? What does it tell us about the way that racial inequality has evolved? And the answer is, it just doesn't - it doesn't fit.”

Wrigley-Field says part of it has to do with whether or not people work in low-paying and high risk jobs.

“This is also a pandemic of the disadvantaged. This is still a pandemic, where the inequalities in what people's work lives are like, and how much power they have at work to demand protection - inequalities in what kinds of health care, people might be able to access – all of the things we know in what kind of health people have, because of what the rest of their lives are like. All of those things are still coming to the fore,” she said.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined Minnesota death certificates between March 2020 and April 2022, vaccination data from the Minnesota Department of Health, and population data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

In Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations, people aged 55 to 64 died at a higher rate than white people aged 65 to 74. But JP Leider, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Public Health Systems, says Asian, Hispanic, and Black Minnesotans are vaccinated at higher rates than their white neighbors.

“I'm a little worried that we are complacent and accepting of just how many people are dying each and every week, and who's dying each and every week; that it's so much worse than the seasonal flu,” said Leider. “That's not just every person saying, ‘well for me, I'm gonna get the booster, or not going to get the booster,’ because that is an individual choice. But for us all to come together and say, ‘This is what it takes to move forward.’ And this is how we need to support communities of color, and how to support rural communities that are still getting hit pretty hard.”

The authors say they are now seeking to understand why Minnesota’s Black, Hispanic and Asian communities have a higher COVID-19 mortality rate, even with high vaccination rates.

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