As of March 6, 2021 North Carolina is among the best-performing states when it comes to distributing vaccines evenly among Black and White residents.
That’s partly because the state is by far the best at collecting demographic data.
North Carolina has racial data for 99.6% of state residents who have gotten a Covid-19 vaccine. About 11% of North Carolina’s Black population has received at least one shot, compared with 17% of the state’s White residents. That puts North Carolina in fourth place for the smallest spread between the two groups among states with the most comprehensive data sets. Other states might be doing as well or better than North Carolina in terms of equality, though huge numbers of incomplete records obscure the national picture.
“The data is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have in order to embed equity into every aspect of our response and now into vaccine operations,” says State Director of Public Health Dr. Mandy Cohen. “Equitable distribution is particularly crucial” as communities of color have borne a disproportionate share of the suffering during the Covid pandemic crisis. State health officials expect providers to inoculate people at rates reflective of the broader population, Cohen says.
For example, if 35% of the residents in a county are Black, 35% of the shots a hospital or health department administers should be given to Black people. Counties that don’t comply risk losing their supply of the vaccine. State leaders review the stats and readjust the allocations every three weeks.
Nationally, Black and Hispanic people are becoming infected the same rate as White people but are dying at about twice the rate, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state’s ongoing struggle to reach Hispanic people illustrates the complexity of distributing shots equitably.
When asked why the metrics for that group are falling short, the state cited “longstanding and continuing racial and ethnic injustices” for the gap. It’s pushing to mend that, but it has a long way to go: About 4% of first doses administered the week ending Feb. 21 were given to Hispanic people, up from about 2% the week ending Jan. 17. Age also may be a factor in the gap: Hispanic people are overall a younger demographic than White or other racial and ethnic groups, which means that many wouldn’t have been eligible during early rounds of vaccination that targeted the oldest people.