- Right now, a 30-year-old BIPOC Vermonter can get vaccinated, but a 30-year-old white Vermonter cannot.
- This is just good public health policy in action, argues healthcare network director Jessica Frisco.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Vermont Governor Phil Scott recently announced that Black people, Indigenous people, and all people of color over the age of 16 and their households can now get vaccinated for COVID-19. As of Tuesday, non-BIPOC Vermonters have to be 50 or older to get the vaccine.
Basically, a 30-year-old BIPOC Vermonter can get vaccinated right now, but a 30-year-old white Vermonter cannot.
The move has launched something of a moral panic among pundits, but a quick look at Vermont’s unique demographics and some basic understanding of public health explain why it’s actually a great idea.
Vaccine distribution plans, in Vermont and across the country, have prioritized the most vulnerable populations from the start. A quick look at the numbers reveals that giving early vaccine access to Vermont’s BIPOC population simply continues that strategy.
Vermont’s unique demographics
Vermont is the second-least populated state in the country. It’s also the whitest. With a population of only 630,000 people, 94% of whom are white, there are only about 36,000 BIPOC people in Vermont. New York City has over 4 million BIPOC individuals, about half its population. The US. in total is 76% white, so Vermont is demographically very unique in that sense.
Not only is the BIPOC population of Vermont small in absolute terms and in proportion to the white population, it’s also at higher risk. Vermont’s BIPOC live mostly in denser populated areas with the highest concentration in Burlington, Vermont’s biggest and hardest hit city.
Why vaccinating Vermont’s BIPOC population makes sense
Nationally, BIPOC populations are more likely to hold jobs as essential workers or in roles that increase their exposure to COVID-19. By far, Burlington has more cases than the rest of Vermont, and it’s known that Black Vermonters alone have the highest rates of COVID in the state.
Also, BIPOC populations consistently prove harder to reach with public health initiatives. These groups are less likely to have a primary care doctor who they feel comfortable calling up for an appointment. They face more significant transportation difficulties in getting to an appointment. And their initial hesitancy about the vaccine has been well-documented (though enthusiasm across racial and ethnic backgrounds continues to grow overall, as availability becomes more widespread).
Creating more opportunities for BIPOC people to get vaccinated will only help to protect these groups from their heightened risk from COVID-19.
It’s not even that big of a deal
For white Vermonters under 50 years of age, the situation isn’t that dire. Starting April 5, all Vermonters 40 and older can get vaccinated. On April 12, all Vermonters age 30 and older get their turn. On April 19, all Vermonters aged 16 and up can get vaccinated.
Stripped of all the racial commentary, all Vermont has done is allow a small, at-risk population to get vaccinated a few weeks ahead of other healthy, younger people. In Vermont, where 90% of COVID-19 deaths have been people over 65, and 87.8% of that population is now vaccinated, it’s not as though truly vulnerable populations have been sidelined to allow minorities access to vaccinations.
Really, it’s just good public health policy in action.
Jessica Frisco is a director at an NYC-based healthcare network. She is a registered nurse and holds a Master of Public Health degree from Columbia University.