Pressley, Warren, Markey Urge HHS to Address Racial Disparities in National Vaccination Strategy

January 28, 2021
Press Release
Lawmakers Call for HHS to Collect and Publish Demographic Data of Vaccine Recipients, Prioritize Hardest-Hit Communities

Text of Letter (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging the Department to work with the relevant federal agencies to monitor and address racial, ethnic and other demographic disparities in our national COVID-19 vaccination deployment strategy, and ensure equitable vaccine access for Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and immigrant communities.

“Free and equitable access to vaccines is essential to saving lives and slowing the spread of the coronavirus,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Acting HHS Secretary Norris Cochran IV. “The recent distribution of approved vaccines is a sign of hope that much needed recovery from this pandemic is near. However, it is critical that the federal government’s vaccine deployment campaign does not fail the communities that have been forced to shoulder the greatest burden.”

Since the onset of the pandemic, Black, Latinx, Indigenous and immigrant communities have experienced a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and these communities continue to be at increased risk of hospitalization, face greater barriers to testing, and in many areas, make up the majority of frontline workers who are at risk for increased exposure to the virus. Despite the clear vulnerability of people of color in this public health emergency, comprehensive data on the racial, ethnic, and other demographic characteristics of people who have been treated or vaccinated for COVID-19 does not exist. This lack of information will exacerbate existing health disparities and result in the loss of lives in our most vulnerable communities.

To ensure that policymakers can effectively combat these health disparities and direct resources to the communities hardest hit, the lawmakers asked HHS to work with states, localities, and private labs to collect and publish demographic data of vaccine recipients—in a way that protects personal identifiable information from law enforcement agencies—and work with tribal governments and urban Indian health programs to avoid any shortages of vaccine doses. The lawmakers also urged the CDC to improve the collection and public reporting of racial, ethnic, and other demographic data for COVID-19 cases and build out reporting to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are not left behind in our national vaccination plans.

“Without robust demographic data, policymakers and researchers cannot fully address the disparate impact COVID-19 continues to have on communities of color or address vaccine hesitancy among communities that have had their trust broken by the medical system,” the lawmakers continued. “As you take the helm of HHS amidst continued COVID-19 surges across the country and a slow vaccination rollout, we urge you not to delay collecting this vital information, and to take any additional necessary steps to ensure that all Americans have the access they need to COVID-19 treatment and vaccination.”

From the onset of the pandemic, the lawmakers have led efforts in Congress to ensure an equitable response to the pandemic that addresses existing racial disparities in the United States.

  • This week, Rep. Pressley wrote to Governor Baker urging him to step up vaccination efforts in Black and Brown communities amid troubling reports of growing racial disparities in vaccination and vaccine access across the state.
  • In April 2020, Rep. Pressley and Sen. Warren, along with Sen. Markey, led their colleagues in introducing the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act, legislation to require the federal government to collect and publicly release racial and other demographic data on COVID-19. The bill also would establish an inter-agency commission to make recommendations in real time on improving data collection and transparency and responding equitably to this crisis. Aspects of the legislation were included in an COVID-19 relief package signed into law later that month.
  • In April 2020, Rep. Pressley urged Governor Baker to rescind the Commonwealth’s proposed Crisis of Care Standards that would have disproportionately harmed Black and Brown communities and the disability community.
  • In March, Rep. Pressley and Sen. Warren urged HHS to collect racial and ethnic demographic data on testing and treatment for COVID-19 to identify and address racial disparities.
  • Rep. Pressley, Sen. Markey, and Sen. Warren also sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) calling on the agency to immediately release racial and ethnic data of Medicare beneficiaries who are tested or hospitalized for COVID-19.
  • Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Warren has also written to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) asking for HHS's report on the administration's efforts to address racial disparities in health care access and outcomes, as required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).
  • At the request of Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Warren, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to investigate how COVID-19 relief funds have been distributed to disproportionately affected communities. 

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