White Coloradans are more likely to have received a coronavirus vaccine than those who are Black or Hispanic, according to new data released Friday by state health officials.
The numbers show that white Coloradans have accounted for about 68% of those receiving at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine so far. That is about equal to white representation in the state’s overall population.
Black and Hispanic Coloradans, however, have been under-represented in vaccinations so far, accounting for 1.8% and 4.3%, respectively. Nearly 4% of Colorado’s population is Black, and nearly 22% is Hispanic.
The numbers are incomplete because some vaccine providers had not been recording race data. As a result, nearly 22% of vaccinations given so far are recorded as having “unknown” race or ethnicity – meaning it’s possible the state’s racial and ethnic disparities could be even wider than the new data show. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has now begun asking providers to collect the information.
“It’s clearly unacceptable to have this kind of disparity here in Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said Friday during a news conference.
Polis and state health officials have repeatedly talked about the importance of making sure vaccine distribution is equitable. On Friday, Rick Palacio, an adviser to Polis and the co-chair of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Taskforce, said the state has set a goal of holding pop-up vaccination clinics in half of Colorado’s top 50 census tracts for high-density, low-income minority populations.
“Of course, that is just a floor,” he said. “We hope that we can reach as many of those top census tracts as we possibly can.”
The state has worked with local authorities to hold clinics in the San Luis Valley towns of Center and San Luis, as well as another vaccine clinic at a historic Black church in north Denver. In San Luis, 200 residents age 70 or older were vaccinated – in a town with a population of only 644.
But local health officials have begun expressing concerns that communities of color are being left behind in the state’s vaccination drive. On Friday, the Metro Denver Partnership for Health – an organization led by local public health agencies in the metro area – called for federal and state officials to prioritize equity at all levels of the vaccine distribution process. The partnership said in a news release that local health officials have “identified some early indications of inequities in vaccine uptake.”
“COVID-19 has highlighted and magnified health disparities and inequities in our region,” Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department and the partnership’s co-chair, said in a statement. “We will work proactively, intentionally and collaboratively in the coming months to set a different course for the next phase of this pandemic.”