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State data shows divide in COVID-19 vaccine access by race and income

Posted at 10:01 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 00:01:49-05

PHOENIX — New state data reveals many communities with more people of color and lower levels of household income are being left behind when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

For residents in Maryvale, it feels like a repeat of this summer when people there had to wait in line for more than 10 hours to be tested for the disease.

“We’re sitting right here in Maryvale, this is one of the places where COVID has hit the hardest in the entire country,” said Janey Pearl Starks, the Director of Equity & Diversity at Mountain Park Health Center.

The health center is a federally-qualified clinic offering the vaccine to its patients and the public eligible under the 1A and 1B categories and those 75 and older.

“When people get here, they’re crying, they’re in tears. They’re saying 'I've been trying to get this vaccine for weeks; we’ve been waiting for this vaccine.' They’re sharing stories of how COVID has ravaged their families, so they’re literally in tears as they’re rolling up their sleeves,” stated Starks.

She says the Maryvale community wants the vaccine, but new data shows there’s a big disparity and a lot of those left behind are in areas with the largest communities of color.

“85009 has the lowest vaccination rate of any zip code in Maricopa County. It’s 90% minority in that zip code,” stated Garret Archer, ABC15’s data analyst.

Archer says the common denominator among zip codes in Maricopa County with the lowest vaccination rates is income.

“Of the 10 zip codes that have received at least one dose, seven are over $80,000 in household income,” he said.

In other words: The richer you are, the more likely you are to get a vaccine in Maricopa County.

“The problem is that the state is using the vaccine for the large-scale site which I call the vanity site out at State Farm [Stadium] which is mainly providing the vaccine to upper-income people,” said Will Humble, a former director of the state health department.

Humble says the online appointment registration system is causing unequal access to the vaccine.

“That can be fixed with a system in which everyone puts in their data and information and there’s a random selection of folks. So that equalizes the opportunity for people to get the vaccine no matter what their income is, no matter how flexible their job is, no matter how good their computer or their broadband is.”

Those same access issues are what Starks says they’ve been pointing out to the state for a long time now, so as soon as they got the vaccine, they made access to appointments available to everyone.

“For family members who don’t have cars, who can't do the drive-through, who can’t get out there, who can’t time off work, who don’t have internet, who can't press refresh, who can’t speak English, all these barriers--for us it's just call the phone number and someone is going to pick up in your language,” she said.

For others, there’s a lack of transparency from the state government when it comes to the planning for equitable distribution of the vaccine.

“It's just kind of a history that Phoenix has with institutional racism. Is anybody actually talking about it? I’m sure if someone from Scottsdale or Paradise Valley had to come to south Phoenix for their shots, they would be screaming,” said Manuel Torres, a former sociology professor.

Torres says his 75-year-old friend couldn’t get the shot at the vaccination site at State Farm Stadium.

“It’s almost impossible. People think everyone has a smartphone, a laptop and they don’t. Like my friend, he’s pretty well educated but he only has a cellphone, and he couldn’t get in at all.”

According to state data, only 8% of eligible Latinos have gotten the shot in comparison to 50% of white individuals.

So how concerning are these numbers? Dr. Alonzo Plough, the chief science officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says they’re extremely concerning.

“Your zip code, where you work, ethnicity should not be the determinant on whether you have a healthy outcome. Now a pandemic is a bad thing, but you shouldn’t be disproportionately affected by it because of those kinds of conditions,” stated Plough.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest health philanthropy. They say it’s critical to prioritize how the state connects with communities of color.

“How we do an especially good job of providing information, trust-building activities in the language and the places that people are comfortable with, so we can get the vaccine distributed in the right arms,” said Plough.

Plough says the right arms are those of the people at a higher risk.

“If you did not have a history of being insured, of having your chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure taken care of, you’re going to be more susceptible to a virus like COVID-19,” Plough said.

“If you look at the life expectancy in Paradise Valley or Scottsdale it is about 85 years old; the life expectancy here and in south Phoenix is about 75 so there’s a big difference that has to do with access to healthcare,” stated Starks.

ABC15 reached out to ADHS asking about the planning to ensure people's zip code, ethnicity, access to the internet or income wouldn't disproportionately affect them from receiving the shot. They responded this evening by saying today is a state holiday.