Colorado’s new COVID-19 vaccine data illuminates racial and ethnic disparities


    Christy Ruffell, manager of clinic nursing standards at UCHealth Medical Center, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to CNA Luis Perez at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020, in Fort Collins. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post, pool)

    Colorado officials, including Gov. Jared Polis, repeatedly point to health equity as a guiding force in their COVID-19 response efforts. They’ve said they aim to ensure that everyone receives the care they need during the pandemic — regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or geographic location.

    But a few days after the state added race and ethnicity statistics to its vaccine data dashboard, the numbers don’t look great for health equity.

    Hispanic people comprise around 22% of Colorado’s population, according to the American Community Survey, but only 4.3% of Coloradans who were vaccinated as of Jan. 24.

    Despite making up 3.9% of the state’s population, Black people represent 1.8% of those vaccinated. Asian people represent 3.1% of all Coloradans and 1.8% of the vaccinated population.

    Meanwhile, the percentage of white people who are vaccinated closely mirrors their representation in the state’s population. White, non-Hispanic people comprise 68% of Coloradans and 68% of those vaccinated as of Jan. 24.

    Race and ethnicity are unknown for about 1 in 5 people who’ve been vaccinated so far. So, the racial and ethnic disparities in vaccination might be larger or smaller than what the data show.

    “Equity doesn’t happen by accident. We have to be deliberate about achieving it,” Rick Palacio, co-chair of Colorado’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force, said in a Jan. 22 statement from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    “The Vaccine Equity Task Force and the administration as a whole are dedicated to equitably distributing the vaccine, and we’ve brought together the top equity and community experts in the state to get it done,” said Palacio, who is also a strategic advisor to Polis. “This virus has disparately devastated our communities of color. This is our opportunity to get it right and get historically marginalized communities life saving vaccines.”

    In the statement, CDPHE said it had asked hospitals and clinics to collect race and ethnicity data when vaccinating people, as long as the patient agrees to provide that information. Those statistics were first added to the vaccine data dashboard Jan. 22.

    “The goal of the data collection is to use it to inform an equitable vaccine distribution process and ensure accountability,” CDPHE’s statement said.

    As part of its efforts toward greater equity, CDPHE has partnered with counties on community vaccination clinics for people who might have limited access to health care, and the department plans to host more. It also is working to establish partnerships with local organizations such as Salud Family Health Centers.

    Through Jan. 24, a total of 372,200 people had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado, representing 6.5% of the state’s population. Of those, 82,659 people — 1.4% of Colorado’s population — had received both doses required for full protection against the coronavirus.

    The state is currently in phase 1B of its vaccination plan and concentrating on people 70 and older. People who are 70 and older but aren’t sure where to get the vaccine should call their health care provider or a community clinic. CDPHE also has a list of resources on its website.

    Those with questions about the vaccine can call a toll-free hotline at 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926). The phone line is available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with answers in multiple languages.