In almost every parish, Louisiana’s Black residents are left behind in COVID-19 vaccines
In nearly 90% of Louisiana parishes, Black residents are getting fewer COVID-19 vaccines per capita than their white counterparts, newly released data from Louisiana’s Department of Health show.
Across the state, white Louisianans have been 29% more likely to get first doses of COVID-19 vaccines than the state’s Black residents. White residents also account for 61% more of completed vaccinations, either one dose of the Johnson & Johnson or two doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech varieties, per capita.
In Louisiana, roughly 12% of the state’s Black population has gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine compared to 16% of the state’s white residents. More than 784,000 Louisianans have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, with more than 448,000 of those people completing their vaccination regimen as of Monday.
The newly released data follows earlier information from LDH that showed a major lag in vaccinations among the state’s Black residents but was fundamentally flawed because racial demographic data was unknown for 20% of the people who had received vaccines as was marked "Other" for an additional 36%.
The department’s most recent release includes data for more than 746,000 people who have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, just under 2% of whom had their race marked as unknown, suggesting the new information is significantly more reliable.
Hesitancy a factor among Black residents
Dr. Earl Benjamin-Robinson, director of Community Partnerships and Health Equity for LDH, said the disparity is likely a function of earned mistrust among Black communities across the South toward medical institutions that is prompting hesitancy to embrace the vaccines.
“That there are a large number of African-Americans that are not getting vaccinated at the same levels of other populations has to do with vaccine hesitancy,” he said. “And it has to do with earned distrust that individuals feel towards systems that have presently and historically, individuals feel, have done harm and caused harm to them.”
“That is based on the feedback that we are getting, the information that has been shared with us, the data that we are seeing,” he added. “Hesitancy is a contributing factor to the African Americans not getting vaccinated at the same propensity that their white counterparts are getting vaccinated.”
That hesitancy is widespread, Benjamin-Robinson said, and goes beyond regular members of the community who may not be as medically literate as health care professionals, who he said are also hesitant to embrace the COVID-19 vaccines.
“I see the data every day when we're trying to get people vaccinated, and we're going into health facilities, and we are seeing that a large majority of individuals working in healthcare facilities are not getting vaccinated, and a large number of them are people of color,” Benjamin-Robinson said.
“That is alarming. We're seeing this, and these are individuals who have access to the vaccine, who readily have access to the vaccine, and are not interested.”
Last summer, the Louisiana Public Health Institute conducted a survey that found only 49% of Black respondents said they would definitely get vaccinated for COVID-19, compared to 59% of white respondents, though roughly 80% of respondents from both races said they were either unsure or probably going to get vaccinated with the rest indicating they would not.
LPHI Managing Director Elizabeth Naumann said Monday that though the institute’s survey showed an expected gap between Black and white embrace of the vaccines, she expects the current disparity is also caused by a lack of health care access among the state’s Black residents.
“We do see, as expected, a bit of a difference for the most vaccine-willing (respondents); however, I think we would be remiss to stop here and say, ‘Well, if the vaccination rate is lower for Black people than for white people, it's probably because of vaccine willingness.” Naumann said. “Demand (for vaccines) is so high right now that everyone who wants it is still trying to get it.”
“I think we would want to consider things like access and other factors that might be contributing to disparities,” she added.
Disparities concentrated in some areas
The lag in vaccinations among the state’s Black residents is not concentrated in any one part of the state, as 47 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes show their white residents getting at least 10% more initial doses per capita than their Black communities.
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However, some parts of the state have developed a greater disparity than others, including the 12-parish region around Monroe, where white residents account for 49% more initial COVID-19 vaccinations per capita than Black residents, the largest disparity in the state.
The Shreveport and Monroe regions, at 39% and 38% Black respectively, both claim large racial disparities in vaccination rates, with white residents of the Shreveport area claiming 46% more initial vaccinations than Black residents.
Similar disparities in vaccination rates have developed all across Louisiana, but parts of the state with the largest Black populations are seeing the worst disparities in vaccination rates.
The Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas have the largest concentrations of Black residents of the state’s nine health care regions at 42%, and they have among the largest disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations per capita between Black and white residents.
White residents in the Baton Rouge region account for 48% more initiated vaccinations than Black residents, the second-largest disparity in the state. That was followed by the Shreveport area at 46% and the New Orleans region at 45%.
But other parts of the state are seeing smaller disparities that still show white residents getting vaccinated more per capita but to a lesser extent.
The racial disparity in Southwest Louisiana, encompassing the Lake Charles and Acadiana areas, is significantly smaller than in the rest of the state, with white residents of Acadiana accounting for 7% more vaccinations than Black residents as of Monday. For the Lake Charles area, that figure was 9%.
Racial disparities in the Cenla and the Houma-Thibodaux regions were 24% and 21% more vaccines going to white residents per capita, respectively.
Other states have similar disparities
Louisiana is not alone in lagging vaccinations among Black residents, as other states have developed similar disparities in the months since the first COVID-19 vaccines were distributed last December.
In Wisconsin, just 3% of the state’s Black population was vaccinated as of February, while some 10% of white Wisconsinites had been vaccinated in the same time frame. A similar disparity was reported in Indiana last month, where roughly 10% of the state’s population is Black but just 4% of its vaccinations were administered to Black residents.
LPHI Director of Policy and Equity Tiffany Jeanminette said that vaccination bottlenecks in health care systems that primarily serve Black residents have been a limiting factor for accessing vaccines, particularly at federally qualified health centers, of which there are almost 300 operating sites in Louisiana that are concentrated near the state’s Black population centers.
“Those systems see about 70% African-Americans, and that's where there are bottlenecks in receiving the vaccine from either the state or the federal government,” Jeanminette said. “Last week I was talking with one of the FQHCs, and they don't know until the night before if the vaccine is going to be delivered the next day.”
“But they are seeing, when they have the vaccine, that the patients, the community members are showing up.”