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In California, vaccines closed gap in Covid-related deaths for Latinos

“We really need to continue to keep that equity lens in mind,” said researcher Shannon McConville.
A health worker administers a Covid-19 vaccination in Los Angeles on Jan 7, 2022.
A health worker administers a Covid-19 vaccination in Los Angeles on Jan. 7.Hans Gutknecht / Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images file

A new data analysis from the Public Policy Institute of California shows that the major racial and ethnic disparities in Covid-related deaths experienced by Latinos in California at the height of the pandemic have significantly narrowed. 

In January 2021, the monthly death rate for Latinos over 18 in California was 55 per 100,000 — the highest of any racial and ethnic group — according to the California Department of Public Health. The death rate for white Californians during the same period was 38 per 100,000. 

By this month, as monthly Covid-related death rates had significantly decreased overall due to increased vaccinations, the rate for Latinos had fallen to about 1 per 100,000 — below that of white Californians, whose death rate is about 2.5 per 100,000. 

The latest vaccination rate according to the California Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 62.1% for Hispanics 18 to 49 years old. For Latinos who are 50 and over, the rates are in the 70% range. 

Shannon McConville, a research fellow with the policy institute who wrote the analysis, said that as California rolled out its vaccination campaign, an “exacerbation of disparities” would have been possible. Equity gaps narrowed, however, in part thanks to efforts focused on putting equity at the center of the vaccination campaign, she said. 

“In terms of accessing vaccines, I think California made efforts to try and prevent that, or to try and have equity be part of the vaccine rollout,” she said. 

In December 2020, the California Department of Health released a “health equity playbook” for counties in the state. The 73-page document acknowledged the effects of structural racism on the access of marginalized communities to employment, housing and “quality health care.” It also pointed to the overrepresentation of low-income communities of color, who have less access to paid leave and other forms of virus prevention, in the essential workforce. 

The strategy highlighted successful examples of equity-focused mitigation strategies throughout the state. Those examples included Northern California’s Sonoma County, which created a group that contracted with community-based providers to improve Covid and vaccine-related case management and response among Latinos and farming communities. Kings County, in the central part of the state, also set aside federal Covid relief money to pay for hotel rooms so essential workers could isolate during the pandemic. 

The equity gap in Covid-related deaths between white and Latino Californians started to close for the first time in July 2021, according to a study published in February the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The researchers who wrote the study, from several California universities, attributed the decline to a number of factors, including immunity from vaccines and previous infection. 

The decline in California is consistent with national trends. As of May 21, which shows the latest available CDC data without a six-week reporting delay, the Covid-related death rate for Hispanics of all ages was 0.14 per 100,000 people. The rate for the white population was 0.33. 

McConville said she believes it will be important to “continue to focus on ensuring access and understanding how to get more people vaccinated and protected.”

“We really need to continue to keep that equity lens in mind as we continue to have people be boosted, as the virus evolves,” she said.

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