This article won the AcademyHealth Disparities Interest Group’s student essay contest. Students were asked to write an editorial on any health disparities topic of their choice, with a focus on the specific causes or consequences of disparities and/or solutions with the most potential to reduce disparities. The article was edited by Health Affairs Forefront in conjunction with the author.
The roots of health disparities are complex, well-studied, and rooted in history and contemporary structural racism, discrimination, and various socioeconomic factors. In the US, COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccinations have largely been implemented within existing health service infrastructure and networks. These networks include major health systems, large pharmacies, and hospitals; however, these networks often systemically exclude Black, Latinx, and American Indian communities, among others. This approach predictably led to the disparities in COVID-19 testing, cases, and deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinx individuals are about twice as likely to get COVID-19, about 3.0 times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 2.3 times more likely to die due to COVID-19.
In Durham, North Carolina, which I call home, these numbers were even more stark. In October 2020, more than 55 percent of COVID-19 cases and about 82 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Durham county were people who identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx, a group that represents only 14 percent of Durham’s population. Today, about 70 percent of Durham’s Latinx population is vaccinated with at least one dose, higher than the percentage of the non-Hispanic population (64 percent). This is due in large part to the efforts of groups such as LATIN-19, which advocated for community-based, community-informed COVID-19 efforts in North Carolina. Efforts to boost equity in COVID-19 vaccinations, along with the country’s reckoning regarding racial justice, provide an opportunity to improve access to health care for the Latinx community.