Study Identifies COVID-19 Vaccine Inequality in Massachusetts

While coronavirus vaccines are essential for protection against the severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and its variants, vaccinating the world is theoretically easier than it is in practice. Many factors, such as income equality and minority health differences, have contributed to a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

A new study by Bisola O. Ojikutu of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston suggests that these communities not only have higher levels of infection, but also lower vaccine distribution. The team suggests that a reformation is needed for fair vaccine delivery to eradicate the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

The researchers write:

“Differences in vaccine delivery highlight the persistent inequalities in our approach to COVID-19 and jeopardize efforts to fight the pandemic.”

The study “Differences in SARS-CoV-2 Risk of Vaccinations Against Infection, Massachusetts, 2020-2021” is available as a preprint on the medRxiv * server while the article is being peer reviewed.

How they did it

The research team collected vaccination data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) and the Boston Public Health Commission from January 29, 2020 to April 9, 2021 to assess the cumulative incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infections. In total, they analyzed data from 276 cities and 15 neighborhoods of Boston with over 3,000 residents and used the data to predict future risk of infection.

Population estimates from the MDPH and American Community Survey with data from 2014-2018 were used to assess age, race, and the predominant ethnic / minority population of a community. The study also assessed socio-economic vulnerability.

The vaccination risk to infection risk (VIR) ratio in communities in Massachusetts with populations greater than 25,000, ranked by socioeconomic vulnerability. The VIR ratio is calculated as the cumulative number of fully vaccinated people divided by the cumulative number of confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections in each community reported from January 29, 2020 to April 9, 2021.

Lower COVID-19 vaccinations correspond to lower socio-economic classes

The results showed that 8.9% of Massachusetts residents had SARS-CoV-2 infections and 21.8% were vaccinated – but the numbers varied widely across communities.

In communities with residents of lower socio-economic status, more infections and fewer vaccinations were carried out in the region. Further analysis showed that black and / or Latinx accounted for 20% of the communities with decreased vaccination and higher infection rates.

A large percentage of residents aged 65 and over were associated with increased vaccine delivery.

The researchers estimate that 330,000 more vaccines will need to be distributed to undervaccinated communities to correct for vaccine inequality.

“The differences reported here are greater than those previously reported using district-level data and underscore the importance of monitoring and targeting smaller geographic units in order to control the equitable distribution of vaccines.”

Important NOTE

* medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and therefore should not be considered conclusive, guide clinical practice / health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

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