Living alone in so-called District 8, Washington’s poorest region, retiree Mabel Harris, 72, has not seen the Covid-19 vaccination start in the United States. It was still December 14, and footage of the first doses of vaccine in the town was recorded 10 km from his home.
Inattentive to the news, he learned from a friend that since last month people his age could be vaccinated in all eight neighborhoods of the US capital and, only on Tuesday (16), he visited the only medical center in his neighborhood. to receive the first dose.
Although free, the vaccination has added a new – and serious – contour to the social and racial inequality plaguing the United States.
Without a car, computer, or Internet access at home, Harris took longer to make an appointment. “I don’t have a computer, I don’t know how to use it. I made an appointment by phone, and they had to take me to the hospital, ”explains the retiree of the free transport service offered by the city.
Harris is now among the 21% of residents aged 65 and over who have ever received at least one dose of the vaccine in the poorest area of Washington – well below the 50% of the vaccinated population in District 3, the richest from the city.
Though hardest hit by the pandemic, poor neighborhoods – and with a majority of black residents – have the lowest rates of people vaccinated in the U.S. capital, a significant gap since the start of the vaccination campaign.
With 92% black residents, District 8 had 94 appointments in the first week of vaccination, while District 3 and its 5% black population reached 2,465.
According to the Department of Health for the District of Columbia, where Washington is located, 30,800 residents aged 65 and over had already taken at least one dose of the vaccine by February 14 – 36.8% of the city’s seniors. However, most live in wealthy neighborhoods, located in Districts 1, 2 and 3, where up to 50% of people in this age group have already been vaccinated. In the poorest regions, which mainly include Districts 5, 7 and 8, the percentage of elderly vaccinated does not reach 28%.
The figures have caught the attention of the health ministry and town hall, which are trying to narrow the differences with strategies ranging from more immunization schedules available in poor areas to a door-to-door task force to warn residents that they are entitled to the immunizer.
Officials from Washington City Hall’s Affairs and Relations and Community Services offices are called “Friends of the Elderly Vaccine” and have personally visited District 8 to educate residents on how to register to receive the vaccine. vaccine.
In addition, they offer services such as free transportation to vaccination sites – the one used by Harris – and snow removal from doors and sidewalks to facilitate traffic in temperatures that this week reached minus 7 ° C in city.
The authorities’ effort is to ensure that limited doses of vaccines are distributed more evenly, but the gaps are still stark, rooted in the systemic inequality of centuries in the country.
Since the start of the pandemic, Washington has recorded 39,300 cases of Covid-19 and 992 deaths – 74% of the victims were blacks, who make up 46% of the city’s population.
At the end of January, 17,520 of those who had received at least one dose of the vaccine in the city were whites, compared with 9,967 blacks.
Recent research shows that 60% of Americans want to receive the vaccine. Blacks, however, are historically the most skeptical minority in the United States when it comes to vaccines – only 42% say they are ready to take the first dose.
Vaccination appointments in the United States can be done over the phone, but there are plenty of complaints about crowded lines or the lack of hours available within minutes. So, those who can be nimble in online planning, with access to computers or cellphones with good internet providers, as well as a car and a flexible routine to get to the vaccination site, have the advantage.
On the town hall’s website, it is stated that “a modern browser – like Chrome, Safari, Edge or Firefox” – is required to make the appointment. “Internet Explorer [um dos mais comuns] that won’t work, ”warns the portal.
Harris says he has no idea what a navigator is and is glad he managed to schedule his date over the phone. But he hadn’t heard of the Door-to-Door Task Force in District 8 yet, nor did he know that the system was opening more vacancies in his neighborhood.
The lack of information among the elderly and the gap between the poor, the rich, the whites and the blacks in the vaccination campaign is not confined to Washington.
Six in 10 Americans aged 65 and over say they do not know where or when they can be vaccinated against Covid-19 – in the United States, the schedule is set by each of the 50 states, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
In the capital, 105,575 doses of vaccines had been delivered as of February 13 and 82% of them were administered.
The city’s mayor, Democrat Muriel Bowser, admits that the current demand for vaccines is “far greater than the supply we get from the federal government”, despite logistical problems and inequalities in distribution.
Over the past few weeks, the city has quadrupled the number of telephone appointment workers – there are now 200 people online – and has opened nearly 2,000 vacant positions for immunization in the most urban areas. poor.
In eight days, the number of vaccinated in District 8 fell from 1,258 to 1,650, but the rate is still well below the 7,511 people who have already received their first dose in affluent District 3 – nationally, the United States. United have vaccinated just over a million. people a day.
In the poorest part of Washington, in addition to the hospital where Harris received his dose, at least one supermarket and a church have vaccinated residents.
A supermarket worker says she has vaccinated up to 20 people a day, but is not always able to reach that number.
The remaining vaccines, he explains, are applied to people who show up even without an appointment. They often come from other neighborhoods – because they have a car or can pay Uber in an almost 30-minute, $ 30 (R $ 160) ride from the city center.