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We Must Have Equity in COVID-19 Vaccinations

AARP is joining an initiative to help Black Americans make informed decisions about vaccination

En español | The pandemic has taken an enormous toll on everyone, and especially older, Black, Hispanic and Indigenous Americans. Over 500,000 people have died in the U.S. due to COVID. Americans 50 and older represent nearly 95 percent of those deaths. About 35 percent have been residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities (though these residents are less than 1 percent of the American population). And Black and Hispanic nursing home residents have died at three times the rate of other residents, making up a substantial number of these deaths.

Yet, the initial vaccine outreach and distribution have not reflected equity as a priority. Available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that only 6.5 percent of the limited supplies of vaccines so far have gone to Blacks. And nearly half of vaccination records are missing race and ethnicity data, which further hampers abilities to address disparities that may widen as demand grows. 

This is a national disgrace. But we believe that our nation can do better through information, advocacy and outreach. AARP is committed to providing trusted information about vaccines and advocating nationwide for officials to improve information and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines now.

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As part of this effort, we have joined with five of the nation’s largest nongovernmental, nonprofit membership organizations — which, combined, reach more than 60 million Americans — to launch a COVID vaccine equity and education initiative. The effort includes the American Diabetes Association, the American Psychological Association, the International City/County Management Association, the National League of Cities and the YMCA. It aims to ensure that accurate and transparent information about the COVID-19 vaccine is available to Black Americans to help them make informed personal decisions about vaccination.

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that around two-thirds of Black Americans are reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Our country’s long history of unethical medical practices in the Black community has increased distrust around medical science and may contribute to hesitancy among Black Americans to take the vaccine. 

By marshaling medical professionals, health officials and other trusted sources to dispel misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, engaging community leaders and organizations to amplify the importance of reaching Black Americans about the vaccines, and providing equitable access, we want to ensure Black Americans can get answers to their questions so they can make informed decisions about protecting themselves, their families and their communities.

Deciding whether to get vaccinated is a choice each person must make for themselves. But it’s a decision that affects society as well as you as an individual.

A vaccination doesn’t protect only one individual — it’s a key step in protecting all of us. Vaccinating the people most likely to wind up in the hospital alleviates burdens on communities’ health care systems. It also helps protect our families, friends, neighbors and coworkers. At AARP, we’re working to make sure that everyone who wants a vaccination can get one. That’s why we’re reaching out to older Americans and people of color, urging them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.