COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged five to 11 add an extra layer to our pandemic strategy.
Unfortunately, it will increase unfairness in the impacts of the virus — unless we develop specific and properly funded strategies for vaccinating racialized youth.
Ontario has had one of the best pandemic responses in the world. Our death rate from COVID is three times lower than that of the U.K. and U.S., and we have outperformed most of Europe.
But some parts of our population have been hit worse than others, and our response has not always been equitable.
Racialized groups in Ontario have higher rates of infection, hospitalization, ICU admission and death from COVID than white groups.
Despite being harder hit, many racialized populations are less likely to be vaccinated. In particular, Black people in Ontario are twice as likely to be unvaccinated as the white population.
Unless we take decisive action, the current disparities in COVID rates, impacts and vaccination for racialized groups will also be seen in childhood immunization.
There is some good news, however: we have seen that it is possible to decrease pandemic inequity when we try.
Toronto used sociodemographic data it collected to identify hot spots and groups at risk. It worked with communities to co-create public health strategies that met their needs. These included pop-up testing sites, free places to isolate, increased buses to decrease crowding, and action on eviction protection and food security.
Between June and December 2020, the combined efforts of community groups and community health centres, the Toronto region of Ontario Health and the City of Toronto brought rates of COVID-19 in the Black population down from nine times that of the white population to two times. Rates in the Latin-origin population decreased from 11 times to five times that of the white population. The strategy also worked for other racialized groups, with inequities in COVID-19 impacts decreasing in South Asian, South East Asian and Arab, Middle Eastern and West Asian origin groups.
This community-based approach was transferred to Ontario’s vaccine roll-out. Community health organizations developed a vaccination playbook to build community capacity and increase the ability of public health and hospitals to reach impacted groups. The province temporarily increased supply of vaccines to hardest hit areas, and supported a community ambassador program. Groups like the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario and the Black Health Alliance worked with public health and hospitals to set up community-based vaccination clinics, significantly increasing vaccine uptake.
Without these efforts, the differences between vaccination rates for racialized groups and the white population would be even greater than they are. But, despite the fact they have proved effective, these efforts have been piecemeal, underfunded and too often reliant on volunteers.
We need to learn from our COVID-19 successes and failures.
The strategies that worked to decrease inequities in COVID-19 impacts and vaccination rates could ensure that racialized children get the best possible chance of vaccination. We need to use them. We urgently need an appropriately funded vaccination strategy for kids aged five to 11 that will ensure equity, and we specifically need a strategy for the Black population.
The strategy would work with communities to identify the best ways to maximize the chance of vaccination. It would build on and support existing community resources and experts in communities. It would increase funding to community organizations and the province’s community ambassadors tactic, and it would challenge public health units to develop networks and contacts so they can properly meet the needs of the populations they serve. Crucially, it would require data collection, set targets and require transparent reporting, so we all know that our public health efforts are reaching the people they should.
Throughout the pandemic, we have relied on racialized populations as the essential workers who take risks to keep everyone safe. It is only fair that when we develop the vaccination response for children, we do everything we can to keep these valuable communities safe.
The vaccination efforts for kids will demand a slow and steady approach, and this requires sustainable investments that ensure racialized children are not left behind.
Article From: The Star
Author: Kwame McKenzie