It’s no secret that the United States still has much work to do regarding racial inequity and inequality. One can see this reflected in our social systems, as well as the healthcare landscape. These issues of inequality and inequity were exacerbated by the onset of the pandemic. The coronavirus spread all over the world and the country, but the areas that were hit hardest by the pandemic were often Black and Brown communities. According to the CDC, the rate ratios for hospitalization (compared to White, Non-Hispanic people) for Black people were 2.9x. Hispanic and Latino people were 3.2x as likely as White people. At the bottom of the chart, the CDC notes that “Race and ethnicity are risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus related to occupation, e.g., frontline, essential, and critical infrastructure workers.” Why is it that our more vulnerable communities have the least access to care and are at higher risk?
One may wonder about the correlation between race and the coronavirus. Why are people of certain ethnicities more at risk for serious bouts of coronavirus than others? The answer to this question lies in socioeconomic factors. Race and socioeconomic status are very intertwined in America. According to the American Psychological Association, “communities are often segregated by SES, race, and ethnicity. These communities commonly share characteristics: low economic development; poor health conditions; and low levels of educational attainment; Low SES has consistently been implicated as a risk factor for many of these problems that plague communities.” With the aforementioned poorer health conditions and lower levels of educational attainment, socioeconomic status can exacerbate a pandemic’s effects. One example of this lies with remote working. Some people, often in “white collar” jobs, have the opportunity to work from home, while others have to commute every day, potentially exposing themselves to the coronavirus twice a day. What’s worse, some companies offer very limited sick time, meaning that some people may have gotten sick but had no choice but to continue working, at risk of losing their jobs.
Communities of color, in particular, the Black community, have long expressed skepticism after being cruelly and unjustly experimented upon in the past. A well-documented example of this was the Tuskegee experiment, where, according to History.com, men with syphilis, as well as a blind control group, were treated with placebos well after effective treatments were made available. This cruel experiment started less than a century ago, so, in conjunction with implicit bias that some doctors and healthcare providers exhibit, it makes sense why there is still skepticism and wariness. The pandemic has been brutal for people of color, shining a light on already existing inequality in the US healthcare system. An example of the dissonance is shown
in this poll that US News cites: “14% of Black Americans believed it would be safe, and fewer than 2 in 10 believed it would be effective. Yet about half said they knew someone who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and around the same number said they knew someone who had been hospitalized with or died from it.”
This pandemic has crippled our nation, and one of its worst effects is that it has hit communities of color with low socioeconomic status the hardest. In addition to higher infection rates and hospitalizations, there is higher skepticism and resistance to treatments that could help us stem the pandemic. The current administration has taken steps to address this, with prominent figures like minister and civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton receiving a vaccine on television, as well as political leaders, as a measure to improve public confidence in the vaccine. With this weekend’s approval of the Johnson and Johnson single-shot vaccine, we can hope that this increased supply leads to a fair distribution throughout the country. Although the disparities in healthcare have been difficult to see and harder for those to endure, the exposure of these issues and the intended remedies have great potential to help heal the United States in more ways than one.
Maria is a member of the Business Development team at H1 in New York City. Maria studied Psychology and Spanish at Colgate University, where she also developed a significant interest in the way the healthcare ecosystem communicates across disparate channels. During her career so far, Maria has demonstrated a detailed and attentive eye for new and emerging data trends, particularly as it is related to the healthcare market. When she’s not helping out at H1, she enjoys running, reading and staying up to date on current events and politics.