Critics say extra knowledge is required to keep away from racial inequality in Hawaii’s vaccine introduction

Hawaii is one of only nine states that does not yet have data on how many people were vaccinated because of their race and ethnicity. This raises concerns among city council members that communities with high COVID-19 rates are not getting adequate access to state shots.

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that by this month, 41 states had published racist breakdowns of vaccinations. Hawaii was among the nine countries that had not yet done so, along with Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Brooks Baehr, spokesman for the Hawaii Department of Health, said Wednesday that the state was close to releasing the data.

Honolulu Councilor Radiant Cordero attends a Honolulu Hale city council meeting. She wrote a letter to the Hawaii Department of Health more than a month ago asking for race vaccination dates and never heard of it. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

Acting state epidemiologist Sarah Kemble told Civil Beat in January that Hawaii is using the same federal database system to collect racing data as other states. She said disaggregated race data wouldn’t be available until April, but comprehensive data showing vaccination rates for native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders as a category would be released in mid-February.

However, as of Wednesday, no vaccination race data was released despite repeated requests from Civil Beat and city officials.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Honolulu councilor Esther Kia’aina, the native Hawaiian. Last year, she criticized the earlier leadership of the Department of Health for failing to separate native Hawaiians from other Pacific islanders in their COVID-19 data.

After disaggregation, the data showed that non-Hawaiian islanders in the Pacific – such as Chuukese, Marshallese, and Samoans – suffered from extremely high COVID-19 rates, while native Hawaiians showed no differences. Filipinos were the only other ethnic community to consistently report disproportionate coronavirus rates.

Hawaii has given 77% of the vaccines it has received, with more than 17% of the population having received at least a first dose, according to the state’s data dashboard. The state has provided data on vaccines administered by the county and by certain age groups. However, several community leaders want the information to be broken down by race and ethnicity.

Potentially harmful delay

“We are still invisible to the data available,” said Agnes Malate, co-chair of the Filpino Community Center’s CARES project. When she and her mother were vaccinated at Hawaii Pacific Health, the only option on the completed form was “Asian”, not “Filipino”.

“How can you then judge which population is accessing it?” she said about the vaccine. “These population groups (Filpinos and Pacific islanders) are disproportionately affected not only by COVID, but also by health inequalities in general.”

On Wednesday, Kia’aina said, although she knows the state has been doing outreach, data is needed to ensure the communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to the vaccine.

“Everyone needs measurable results. We need to know if we are effective and successful, ”she said. While she believes the Department of Health’s intentions are good, “what’s the point if they don’t reach the people they are supposed to reach?”

She said millions of dollars in public funding are available to ensure the data is collected and vaccines are distributed appropriately.

“This phase of the game is not about the lack of funding and I don’t want to hear about the lack of capacity,” she said.

On February 1, Honolulu councilor Radiant Cordero wrote a letter to the Department of Health asking for race vaccination dates. She also tweeted her request to the agency.

The health department never replied, she said on Wednesday.

“It’s very frustrating,” she said. “If data was a key factor in testing (in Kalihi) … shouldn’t the data guide us in administering the vaccines?”

Hi @HawaiiDOH, I’m just a neighbor representing over 102,000 of my own neighbors. I am wondering if capacity in communities is data driven and if the information gathered contains relevant information to track, map correct reach + more. All communities communicate differently. How can we help?

– Radiant Cordero (@RadiantCordero) February 2, 2021

Many other states have priority lists specifically aimed at communities with a high rate of coronavirus cases. The state health department chose not to explicitly prioritize communities by race or zip code for their vaccinations because they would by default be accessed through work priorities. And while the New York Times reports that 37 states currently allow people with diabetes to have access to the vaccine, Hawaii is not yet one of them.

Any of these priorities would have helped the people of Corderos District, many of whom are Filipino and Pacific islanders, the councilor said. She said if the state is not comfortable with prioritizing ethnicities or zip codes with many COVID-19 cases, why not by density, noting that her constituents live in crowded multi-generational homes, making it easier for the virus to spread .

Cordero, who is Filipina, said it was silly that the state’s vaccination priorities didn’t reflect the state’s own data, which reveals geographic and ethnic differences, but at this point she wishes Hawaii would follow Alaska to vaccinate all over to make available to the age 16.

“I am very frustrated that all of these labels contain data and parameters. Can we rely on the data? “She was referring to the data showing that certain zip codes and ethnic communities have higher COVID-19 rates. “Open it or base it on the data.”

Tina Tauasosi-Posiulai is a member of the Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander’s COVID-19 task force and executive director of Pasefika Empowerment and Advancement. She suspects that few Pacific islanders have been vaccinated because until this week Hawaii has restricted vaccinations to people age 75 and older, in addition to frontline workers and a few others who are considered essential.

“There aren’t many islanders in the Pacific who are 75 years of age or older,” said the Samoan Tauasosi-Posiulai. “Our people die young.”

But you can’t know without data. Hoping her fears are not true, Cordero notes that her constituents are far more eager to get vaccinated than to take COVID-19 tests.

“I don’t want the same number of positive cases to repeat,” said Cordero. “I would rather see it the other way around, that they have the highest vaccination rate.”


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