New Kansas data shows racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Nason Lui, a general surgeon at Stormont Vail Health, receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in December.

About 4.8% of Black Kansans have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data released Friday by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, a figure that is half the vaccination rate for white residents, roughly 10% of whom have gotten their shots.

About 4% of the state's American Indian population and 5% of Asian-American residents have gotten their vaccine, according to the numbers, which were publicly disclosed Friday for the first time. Around 7% of those who identify as Hispanic or Latino have been immunized.

More than 38,713 residents who received the vaccine identified as "other" or as multiple races. There was no racial data for 57,999 doses of vaccine administered. 

Gov. Laura Kelly said Friday on a conference call with local elected officials that the state will be doubling down on its work with communities of color throughout the state to ensure that they have access to the vaccine, something health officials have maintained is a priority.

"It is an important driver because they are at higher risk and harder to reach," said Lee Norman, secretary of health and environment. "And we want to make sure that we are attentive to all populations."

While the state aimed to incorporate groups representing Kansans of color in their vaccine outreach strategy from the beginning, experts have acknowledged that there is a skepticism of government and public health campaigns among those groups.

“Black, indigenous and Latino people in the United States have a much more skeptical approach towards vaccines,” Brett Bricker, a University of Kansas researcher who has studied vaccine skepticism, said in an interview last year. “This is based on a history of mistreatment by the scientific community and in particular federal projects about or using science and vaccines.”

Overall, 259,796 residents who identify as white received the vaccine, with 8,136 who identify as Black getting shots.

The report said 4,629 Asian-American individuals got shots, as did 1,025 who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, while 25,351 residents who identify as Hispanic or Latino received the vaccine.

There have been 544,258 doses administered statewide, with 12.7% of all residents receiving at least one of their doses. Kansas ranks 45th nationally for doses administered per 100,000 residents, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kelly also said Friday that every teacher who wants a vaccine is set to have one by the end of next week, something she termed "good news."

The governor rolled out a targeted vaccination strategy for educators last week in an effort to allow in-person instruction to resume as widely as possible.

"Even before we announced the back-to-school plan, a number of counties have already taken it upon themselves to vaccinate teachers," Kelly said.

The state reported an increase of 826 cases of COVID-19 since Wednesday, as well as a rise of 11 deaths. Sixty new hospitalizations were reported in that timeframe.

Norman said he remained pleased that new virus cases continue to drop, noting that hospitals are dealing with capacity issues — but not due to COVID-19.

"The stars and the moon have aligned very well," he said.