AM analysts have been reporting on the socioeconomic factors that are contributing to lagging vaccination rates within the Hispanic community. In an earlier post, our analysts found that language barriers and access to reliable COVID-19 information, and not hesitancy caused by doubts in vaccine safety, were two of the primary reasons why COVID-19 vaccination rates among Hispanics are disproportionately lower across the nation. In this post, our analysts are tracking how barriers to technology and transportation are hindering getting shots into the arms of the Hispanic population.
While the pandemic response has allowed users to sign up for COVID-19 vaccines online, it also spotlights a digital divide – the gap between individuals who do and those who do not have access to internet-capable communication devices and/or high-speed internet. An analysis of state-supported data shows that racial and ethnic minority communities who lack internet access have been left behind in the race to get a COVID-19 vaccine and some older adults from these communities have been unable to make online vaccine appointments. Many Hispanics also encounter obstacles when trying to navigate America’s vaccine delivery system, which is designed for English-speakers with access to computers, smartphones, telephones, transportation, and flexible work schedules. According to a New York Times article, although vaccines have become widely available, barriers to vaccines access and structural limitations stand in the way of higher vaccination rates. “Our folks don’t have emails, they don’t have computers at home,” said James Rudyk, executive director of the Northwest Side Housing Center in Chicago, which runs vaccine clinics in Belmont Cragin, a largely Hispanic neighborhood. “They have smartphones, but they are not navigating registration systems that want you to fill out pages and pages of information.” Healthcare providers in Philadelphia, PA are seeing the same trend. They argue that barriers such as the location of vaccination sites, appointment scheduling, and lack of transportation to vaccine sites are to blame for low vaccine turnout among Hispanics.
Poor internet access also makes securing vaccine appointments a challenge. A recent report by CNET suggests that digital redlining is occurring in low-income communities. The article further explains that big internet providers often upgrade their networks in wealthier communities and shun low-income communities. As a result, poorer communities often have no internet or are stuck with slow network services that fail to meet today’s demand. In addition, Microsoft estimates 120.4 million people, or more than a third of the US population, don’t use the internet at broadband speeds. Without it, people can’t easily schedule appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations.
While state and local governments develop strategies and incentives to get more people vaccinated, many have left out an important piece – how to provide transportation to people who are unable to get to vaccination sites; specifically older Hispanics. According to a Pew Charitable Trust article, Hispanics who don’t own vehicles or live near public transit are finding it harder to get to vaccination sites. The article states that millions of older adults and low-income people of color who are at higher risks of contracting COVID-19 either don’t have cars or live near public transit. Some are even homebound and others live in rural areas far from vaccination sites.
Several solutions have been proposed to address these issues. President Joe Biden has pledged $65 billion over eight years to make sure every American has broadband access. New Jersey now allows people without internet access to sign up for vaccine appointments by phone. Maryland launched a mobile education unit to reach the underserved and remote populations. To address the problems with transportation, Jane Campbell, the town commissioner in Davidson, North Carolina, suggests partnering with the county or regional hospitals to set up drive-thru vaccination locations. She stated, “We can use our police officers, firefighters, or volunteers to handle the logistics and make it happen.” These state-wide strategies will address some of the racial disparities that are impacting Hispanics and people of color, but there is more work that could be done. Using research data, policymakers need to identify when and where the lack of internet access acts as a barrier and then develop localized solutions that allow people to access healthcare services and information without having to use the internet or rely on sporadic and expensive public transport networks.
AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at email@example.com.