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Experts Hopeful about Closing Racial Gaps for COVID Shots

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021   

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Despite higher COVID illness and death totals, certain minority groups in Minnesota are getting fewer vaccinations. However, there are signs the racial gaps could soon grow smaller.

Black Minnesotans are among the groups seeing lagging numbers of COVID vaccinations, according to state health officials. For those age 15 and older who have received the vaccine, just 3.5% are Black residents while 90% are Caucasian.

Craig Helmstetter, managing partner of APM Research Lab, said it mirrors what's happening nationally, and one key underlying factor is that inoculation efforts have focused on older people.

"And by and large, the white population is older than most populations of color across the country," he said, "and so, from that standpoint, it's not surprising that we see vaccination rates higher among white populations."

As more age groups become eligible, he said, more people of color are likely to receive COVID shots. However, Helmstetter and other experts have said policymakers could have done a better job prioritizing minority groups when vaccination efforts began. He noted that coronavirus variants still are a concern. State health officials say they're doing targeted outreach with community groups and mobile vaccination clinics.

Also in Minnesota, the COVID death rate for Asian-Americans is relatively high compared with other states. Helmstetter said this group is being vaccinated at lower rates, which also bucks what's happening nationally.

"Although the Asian population is not the largest population in the state, it is a population that's having a lot of impacts and so far, not matching the vaccination rate of whites," he said, "and so that's an issue of concern."

However, Helmstetter cited encouraging news for Indigenous populations, which have seen higher vaccination rates. To date, more than 1.2 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccination. The health department has said racial data for inoculation efforts only has been available for a short time, but it now can put the state on a better path toward equity in this area.


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