March 7, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Why rich spots like Beverly Hills get more COVID vaccines

Striking inequities are emerging in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, with residents of wealthy areas receiving far more vaccinations than those in poorer neighborhoods, data show.

Los Angeles County’s wealthiest and more predominantly white cities have a far greater percentage of residents vaccinated for COVID-19 than its poorest regions, home to large Black and Latino populations, according to data released Friday.

“The findings clearly indicate very significant inequities in the distribution of vaccine to date,” said Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “These inequities are unjust and unacceptable and demand renewed efforts to address them.”

Simon said one of the biggest barriers to vaccinations had been the appointment registration process.

RELATED: Mapping the inequities in vaccine distribution.

“The websites have been flooded with folks trying to get an appointment. And so those people who have the luxury of time can spend, literally in some cases, hours, I’m sad to say, working to try to get an appointment,” Simon said. Many seniors have relied on their children, nieces, nephews or other friends who are more comfortable using the internet to help get them an appointment.

In addition, the use of so-called mega-POD (point of distribution) sites in the county — such as the Forum and Pomona Fairplex super sites — has been criticized. They’re off-putting for those trying to avoid large crowds, critics say, and the demographic served often doesn’t reflect the county’s poorer residents.

Simon said the strategy of using massive sites to distribute vaccines was done to dispense vaccinations quickly and had been successful in that regard. “We’re using more than 90% of our supply within four days of receiving it,” he said. “But those big mega-PODs don’t necessarily work so well for these underserved communities.”

Rich vs. poor communities

According to the data released by the L.A. County Department of Public Health, cities and neighborhoods where 25% or more of the populations had received at least one dose of vaccine included Cheviot Hills, Century City, Bel-Air, Beverly Crest, Beverly Hills, Rolling Hills Estates, Encino, Pacific Palisades, San Marino, Palos Verdes Estates, La Cañada Flintridge, Brentwood, Sierra Madre and Rancho Palos Verdes.

But areas with 9% or less of the population vaccinated included broad swaths of South L.A. and southeast Los Angeles County, including the cities of South Gate, Paramount, Lawndale, Lynwood, Maywood, Hawaiian Gardens, Huntington Park, Bell Gardens, Bell, Compton and Cudahy; the Antelope Valley; and other L.A. neighborhoods, including Koreatown, Hollywood and North Hollywood, Little Armenia, Wilmington, Westlake and Thai Town. Avalon, on Santa Catalina Island, also reported a vaccination rate of less than 9%.

Neighborhoods and cities with more than a 9% vaccination rate but less than a 10% rate included Harbor Gateway, Pacoima, Hawthorne, Little Bangladesh, Pico-Union, Inglewood, South El Monte, Boyle Heights, East L.A., Temple-Beaudry and Van Nuys.

Overall, neighborhoods around L.A. County with the lowest vaccination rates were South L.A., East L.A., several regions of the San Gabriel Valley, the eastern San Fernando Valley, the Antelope Valley and several areas near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Other imbalances

There is also a gender imbalance among those who have been vaccinated: 59% are female, while 41% are male.

And Black and Latino residents are being vaccinated at a substantially lower rate compared to their proportion of the population: Among vaccines given to L.A. County residents 16 and older, 33.5% have been given to white residents; 23% to Latinos; 19% to Asian Americans; and 5.2% to Black residents. Of L.A. County’s population of residents 16 and older, 46% are Latino and 9% are Black.

L.A. County officials also calculated by race and ethnic group the percentage of seniors who had received at least one dose of vaccine: 42.5% of people 65 and older.

But among racial and ethnic groups, there was wide variation. White seniors were most likely to have received at least one dose, with 42.8% of all white seniors receiving the vaccine; 39.4% of Asian American seniors also had received at least one shot. But only 24% of Black seniors, 29.3% of Latino seniors and 31.7% of Native American seniors had received at least one dose.

Areas in L.A. County, shaded in the darkest green, have the highest rate of vaccinations — and are generally in wealthier areas with larger proportions of white residents.

(Los Angeles County Department of Public Health)

Trying to fix the problems

Strategies that officials have proposed to get more vaccine to members of underserved communities include reserving appointment slots for residents of those areas; expanding mobile vaccination units to serve seniors and others with limited mobility; dispatching community health workers to help residents schedule appointments; and expanding transportation services for those in need.

Authorities also are sending more vaccines to healthcare providers in underserved communities, such as clinics and pharmacies.

Officials next week will allocate an additional 6,000 to 7,000 vaccine doses for residents of South L.A. and 1,000 to 2,000 in the Antelope Valley, Simon said. New vaccination sites will be prioritized in areas with the lowest vaccination rates.

L.A. City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents South L.A., has been critical of how vaccinations have been distributed. At a City Council meeting in January, he expressed concern about the initial government strategy of routing vaccines to large sites such as the Forum in Inglewood. He said his constituents were “not going to anyplace with big crowds of people” and criticized the demographic makeup of those receiving shots at the venue as not representative of the neighboring community, an observation confirmed by others, including Simon.

Harris-Dawson and others have encouraged the use of mobile vaccine clinics and the practice of routing vaccines to clinics that have a trusted reputation in the community.

Although officials also plan to step up efforts to combat misinformation about the safety of the vaccines, which data have shown to be very safe, Simon said he believed the larger problem right now was lack of access to the vaccine. There are many more Black seniors who desperately want to get the vaccine but have so far been unsuccessful at getting appointments, Simon said.