Who are we vaccinating?

There is a lot of talk about systemic racism today.  I asked one of my liberal friends if this Virginia policy is an example of systemic racism. 

Black, Latino Seniors in Virginia Get COVID-19 Vaccine Priority as White 85-Year-Olds Wait | Judicial Watch

In the next few weeks, the state will give preference to black and Latino residents 65 and over while much older white seniors, many in their 80s, cannot secure an appointment to get inoculated. The plan was announced a few days ago by Dr. Danny Avula, who was appointed by Governor Ralph Northam this year to be the state’s vaccine coordinator. A Richmond news report calls it the latest step taken by Virginia to bake equity into its vaccination policies. In recent weeks, the article says, roughly 10,000 vaccines were channeled specifically toward trusted clinics in neighborhoods with older black residents.

I guess it was too much to have hoped for an admission that a new form of systemic racism is being introduced into our culture.  Here is the response that I received:

Do you think it is racist that Blacks and Latinos are getting COVID at a significantly higher rate than White people in Virginia?  Think about what might be causing higher rates of COVID.   Perhaps they are working in lower wage jobs where they engage the public more, such as retail.  Why are they working retail?  Each person’s story is different, but if you look you may find a theme and I’m guessing that policy or attitudes will likely come up. 

His argument, which he confirmed for me, is this: blacks and Latinos are in lower wage jobs and therefore less protected from COVID than others, and because they are more likely to work in lower wage jobs that must be because of racism.  He went on to say:

If you know the consequences and you are not OK with them, then is allowing it to happen a racist action?  I’m not a strong believer of the if you aren’t an anti-racist then you are a racist, but I think inaction needs to be looked at because I don’t exclude it either.  That is the “keep digging” part.  .  It is clear once it is told harm being done, continuing to do so now becomes intentional and is harmful and in the case of whether it is racist now crosses the line.  There are others who most definitely understand what they are saying and are intending to harm.

I didn’t advocate for inaction nor to turn a blind eye towards racism.   What I proposed is that vaccinations be prioritized on the basis of age not on the basis of race.  I provided facts about why vaccinating on the basis of race is not a good idea. 

Blacks and Latinos are 1.2 times more likely to die from COVID than whites per the article.  The differences between age groups is much more stark:

So, an 80 year old (of any race) is 8 times more likely to die of COVID than a 65 year-old.  An 80 year old is 110 times more likely to die of COVID than a 40-year old.  You get a slight bang for your buck by vaccinating blacks and Latinos first but you get a much bigger bang for your buck by vaccinating older folks first.  The ratios aren’t even close.   

I also pointed out that males are twice as likely to die from COVID as females.  So, would it make sense to vaccinate males before females?  I’m sure that argument would be politically unpalatable, but why do we advocate vaccinating blacks and Latinos first when the ratio between them and whites is much less  when compared to the ratios for gender and the ratio for age? 

But the facts I provide don’t seem to be very convincing to my friend. Why not?  Doesn’t every politician today claim to be following the science?   Are the facts presented not data provided by science?   What do we base our vaccine rollout criteria on if not facts such as these?  Shouldn’t we be pushing for the distribution criteria which gives the most bang for the buck?  Vaccinating blacks and Latinos first is a political argument, not an argument based in science.   It is pandering to a large voting block, nothing else.   

Others say we should vaccinate teachers first.  This is another political argument.  Democrats want to reward teachers and the teachers union despite the fact that teachers are not any more at risk than others.  Here is one study among many that shows this result:

RESULTS: Over 9 weeks, 11 participating school districts had more than 90,000 students and staff attend school in-person; of these, there were 773 community-acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections documented by molecular testing. Through contact tracing, NC health department staff determined an additional 32 infections were acquired within schools. No instances of child-to- adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 were reported within schools.

CONCLUSIONS: In the first 9 weeks of in-person instruction in NC schools, we found extremely limited within-school secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2, as determined by contact tracing. (Zimmerman et. al. 2021)

Why do we prioritize teachers over grocery clerks, policemen, auto mechanics, yoga instructors, Wal-Mart employees (Wal-Mart by the way was deemed an essential business by our governor) or any other group which is at risk of the virus?   The answer is that these groups do not have the same political clout as teachers, so they are not prioritized.   Just please do not tell us you are “following the science” when you are clearly not.   

The only sensible criteria for COVID vaccine distribution is to distribute by age, oldest first and youngest last.   More than 80% of all deaths from COVID are from those 55 and older.  How can one justify vaccinating a 25-year old teacher over a senior citizen?   

But is this Racist?

Let’s go back to my friends comment.  I asked: is vaccinating people on the basis of race is racist?   He answers my question not with a simple yes or no, but with a question for me: If you know the consequences and you are not OK with them, then is allowing it to happen a racist action? 

His point, I think, is that I am not doing enough to combat racism.   But wasn’t I trying to combat racism by pointing out that Governor Northam’s policy of vaccinating people on the basis of race is racist?  Favoring one group of people over another based solely on the immutable character of race is not just.  Aren’t I taking a stand against racism?  Could I ask my friend why he is not willing to call out that which I see as racist?  He is saying we should do something about the fact that blacks and Latinos are dying at a higher rate from COVID and that we must take steps to reverse that trend.  That’s a worthy goal.  But what can we do?  My point is that is basically immoral not to vaccinate by age.  More people will die if we do it any other way.

I’m not ignoring the fact that more there is a race disparity in COVID deaths, but I haven’t heard a policy that would address this without causing more serious negative consequences.   To be fair, we could actually make a case for vaccinating on the basis of race if the policy was the one that would save the most lives, but the facts show that this policy is counter-productive and actually cost lives, so I can’t get on board.  The policy appears to be based solely on race and that’s a problem.

I also pointed out that Martin Luther King said we should judged by the content of our character.   We are not living up to that standard today.  There is no real standard any more and that is the problem.   His response to that was interesting:

He was talking about an ideal world and I don’t think we live in one.  You say the policies change and the systemic racism no longer exists.  OK, not that I necessarily agree, but there are multigenerational effects that need to play themselves out before we emerge on the other side of effects of racism.  Back when we had separate but equal schools, most of the money went to the White schools the Black schools got hand-me-down books from them.  This means they got to use books that were out-of-date.  Not a good start for separate but equal.  These books also got a bit of editing prior to being shipped.  I heard the kids knew they were going to Black schools and they left notes for them that included racist epithets.  Not exactly an ideal learning environment, nor a strong point for separate but equal.  Then we had integration of schools.  It took the National Guard so the kids could go into the classrooms.  Do you think anyone wanted to be there?  Those kids were pawn in a very dangerous game.  In the classrooms, do you think the teachers were kind to them.  Do you think they called on them when they wanted to answer questions?  All of this has affected kids and their parents.  It certainly would have given me something to pause about and not trust the system.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, we tore down a system that favored whites over blacks.  It is universally accepted today that that was the right and moral thing.   I asked my friend to call out a contemporary policy based on race, but he didn’t.  He just didn’t see any of this as racist.  Why not?  Why is he calling out one form of racism but unwilling to countenance another form of racism?  I don’t know why, but I am trying to understand his perspective.  Governor Northam’s reasoning is much clearer to see; he is pushing his policy not because of the science, but because of the politics and the politics of this is racist.  I wouldn’t call it racist if it actually saved lives, but that simply isn’t the case.   How can we see it any other way?

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