The Seattle City Council vowed to improve equity in the city’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout with a nonbinding resolution passed unanimously Tuesday.
It was also discovered that the vaccine has been preferentially given to people with social connections, with three Puget Sound providers giving special access to donors, board members and volunteers.
The council said that Washington’s current strategies have not been working in favor of other at-risk populations, like immigrants, refugees, unsheltered people, people living in public housing and multigenerational homes.
Council members vowed to make vaccinations as easy as possible by reducing language, transportation, disability and digital literacy barriers that prevent people from getting appointments.
Washington’s previous attempts to combat inequity, like providing vaccines to a range of organizations and geographic locations, have failed to close certain gaps. The council’s answer is to focus on vulnerable residents, while “shifting and prioritizing resources and power” and “not just pay lip service to equity,” said council President M. Lorena González.
The vaccine, currently open to those 65 years and older, is generally in short supply. Washington has given out about 1.06 million doses, missing its daily target for vaccinations week after week.
State data from the Department of Health (DOH) shows the providers administered a disproportionate share of its doses to white residents.
As of a Feb. 10 report, about 67% of Washingtonians vaccinated with at least one dose have been white. Though white residents make up about 67% of Washingtonians, they make up 48% of COVID-19 cases.
Meanwhile, less than 5% of those vaccinated have been Hispanic, who represent 32% of all cases. Black residents have received just over 2% of the initial vaccinations and are 6% of the cases.
The council reaffirmed its commitment to publishing data on race and ethnicity, which will be available on the DOH’s COVID-19 dashboard this week.
The resolution stressed the importance of culturally attuned outreach campaigns in addressing vaccine hesitancy and distrust among communities affected by racism in health care.
The resolution also stated a commitment to vaccinating people living here illegally, saying documentation should not be requested during registration or at vaccination centers. It discussed possibly using single-dose vaccines for people who may have a harder time getting their second dose.
“We cannot and must not sacrifice fairness and equity for the sake of moving quickly because it will mean people will be left behind” especially our elders, González said.