At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a plan to partner with philanthropies in order to ramp up vaccinations in marginalized communities. That plan is called the Vaccine Equity Initiative, and it has a goal of raising around $15 million in donations to match $15 million in statewide funds for vaccine outreach and education.
Last week the Washington State Department of Health released data that revealed vast inequities in its vaccine rollout. With about a million shots in arms, so far 67% of the vaccines have gone to white people, while only 5% have gone to Hispanic people and 2% to Black people. For a little context, according to the Latino Center for Health, Latinx people made up around 43% of COVID-19 cases but only account for 13% of the state's population.
That's just the latest snafu in a statewide vaccination rollout characterized by decentralized chaos, as the Seattle Times reported yesterday.
Jesus Hernandez, CEO, Family Health Centers in Okanogan County, said at the press conference that the vaccine disparities mirrored the disparities he saw with COVID-19 testing rates in these communities.
"Some of the barriers contributing to these disparities are things like transportation, online access, language barriers, and frankly addressing the fear and the lack of access to correct information," Hernandez said.
Currently, the state is reserving 20% of all appointments at its four mass vaccination sites for people who prefer to make appoints via telephone rather than online. Washington is also allocating 20% of its vaccine doses to community health centers similar to the one Hernandez runs. However, accessibility issues persist.
With the $30 million the state hopes to have at its disposal, the initiative would fund vaccine registration aid, transportation assistance, translated materials, phone and text banking to reach marginalized communities, the expansion of community organization staffing, and outreach capacity.
Similar to how King County called for local businesses to help with mass vaccination sites, Washington is asking for philanthropic donors to help reach the marginalized communities that aren't getting the poke at the same rate as predominantly white communities.
"Fundamentally," Constantine said, "public health is underfunded." Public health entities operate on slim budgets, he added, because of Washington's unfair tax system. "Fix the tax system and you fix a lot of these problems," Constantine said.
In her support of the public-private partnership, Durkan said, "We won't get through this if we're not all in it together."
So far, The Starbucks Foundation and Premera Blue Cross have kicked some money toward the initiative. But, Inslee, Constantine, and Durkan are asking others to join in.
Now you have to ask yourself, do you have $25 bucks to spare so Washington's vaccine rollout isn't fucking racist?
Currently, the state is vaccinating people in phase 1B, which includes everyone 65-years-old or older and people 50-years-old and up living in multigenerational households. This population accounts for around 1.7 million people statewide, or around 3.4 million doses.
The state will have way more work to do as it moves into the next eligibility phase and begins to vaccinate larger numbers of younger people and essential workers, Inslee said.