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Disparate impact: Black Americans to bear brunt of burden from vaccine passports

Black vaccination rates lag behind other demographics.

Updated: August 9, 2021 - 11:31pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Black Americans look to be the biggest potential losers if "vaccine passports" are implemented on a wide scale, a possibility that looks more likely amid rising fears of the SARS-Cov-2 "Delta variant." 

New York City this week became among the first municipalities in the country to make vaccination mandatory for both employees and patrons at public venues like restaurants and fitness centers. 

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio called the measure "crucial," claiming that it will "encourage a lot more vaccinations."

Whether or not the measure plays out that way remains to be seen. But the city's directive may well serve as a harbinger for other de facto mandates across the country. Similar policies have already been implemented in some European countries, including France. 

The rule will likely have an outsized effect on black New York City residents, insofar as vaccination rates among black Americans overall have consistently lagged behind those of other demographic groups. 

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that black Americans have consistently hovered near the bottom of major U.S. demographics for vaccine uptake. Since May of this year they have been below every other racial group. 

Data further indicate that black Americans have the lowest full-vaccination-to-population ratio in the U.S. among major demographics. 

"Vaccine hesitancy" among black Americans is a well-known phenomenon, one for which a variety of causes has been proposed, including historically racist medical practices throughout U.S. history, including infamous malpractice scandals such as the Tuskegee experiments. 

Others have argued that the issue is one of inequity, with blacks unable to secure access to COVID-19 vaccines due to distribution and transportation issues, among other factors. 

Toni-Michelle Travis, a professor emerita at George Mason University who specializes in racial and gender issues in the U.S., argued that "proposals for vaccine passports will be more difficult for any low-income group, particularly African-American and Latinos."

"There's a high level of concern among black Americans when it comes to medical history and health because of how various states have handled certain things," she told Just the News, "whether it was the sterilization of women, or people who were considered at one point retarded, and certainly the syphillis study in Tuskegee." 

"So there's always skepticism that what the government is going to do will be beneficial," she said, though she speculated that the current surge of the virus "may cause more people to become vaccinated more so than any policy."

Some officials have explicitly argued that vaccine passports could pose discriminatory problems for black Americans. Boston acting Mayor Kim Janey this week compared potential vaccine passport systems to past racist systems of power under which nonwhite Americans regularly had to "show their papers" — although she subsequently expressed regret for those "analogies because they took away from the important issue of ensuring that our vaccination and public health policies are implemented with fairness and equity."

Janey's office did not respond to a request seeking comment on the issue. 

Media personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, meanwhile, pointed out that the lopsided vaccine rates between American demographics would necessarily precipitate a lopsided vaccine passport effect. 

"The CDC reported today that only 28.4% of the black community have received the Covid vaccine," he tweeted Wednesday. "With states like CA and NY mandating vaccine passports to enter restaurants and businesses, the black community would be most affected by this modern day segregation."