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State Says Racial Disparities in Vaccine Distribution Improving

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Washington state health officials say they are working to make sure distribution of the Covid vaccine is equitable. That means it’s distributed in the same proportion to minority groups as to the population as a whole.

Recently, the head of the Washington Department of Health, Umair Shah, said further analysis of numbers of those vaccinated shows better progress toward that goal than initially thought.

“In particular, when we compared data of people over the age of 65 who have been vaccinated to the state’s population of those over 65, some race and ethnicity groups are still under-represented, but the gaps are markedly smaller than our initial comparison showed,” Shah said.

The latest data shows 2.5 percent of those who have received at least one vaccine shot are Hispanic. The Hispanic population in the state over 65 makes up 3.6 percent of the population. 1.2 percent of the people who have had at least one shot are African American. The Black population over 65 is 2.1 percent.

Shah says his agency is committed to improving that numbers gap with several strategies.

“Within just one week we were able to work with the Chelan-Douglas County Health District to provide an alternative pathway for people who speak Spanish to sign up for appointments,” Shah said. “We're funding a local community partner, Wenatchee Cafe, to set up a hotline to help the Latinx Spanish-speaking community through the registration process. We're taking this model and working with Spokane area partners to look at opportunities for that mass vaccination site as well.”

Shah says his agency is also translating public outreach materials on the vaccination into 37 languages in an effort to reach minorities.

At the mass vaccination sites, 20 percent of the appointments are being reserved for phone-only scheduling to target those with technology and language barriers.

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